Fish and Oil Don’t Mix
Windhoek – A study commissioned by the Namibian government has revealed that the sharp decline in tuna catches is a result of an increase in seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Orange River Basin.
The government says the country’s tuna catch shrunk to 650 tonnes this year from 4 046 tonnes in 2011, the negative effect of a boom in the search for oil and gas on the Atlantic coast. This is driving tuna stock from their normal migratory routes.
A taskforce established to investigate the ecological effects of seismic exploration on tuna fishing has recommended that the government halts further proposed seismic survey for oil and gas in Tripp Seamount – a major tuna fishing ground – until more information is available.
Anna Erastus, policy planning director at the Fisheries and Marine Resources Ministry, said in their commission findings that there should be efforts to delay proposed seismic survey during February and March 2014, the height of the pole and line tuna season in Namibia when 70 percent of the catch is made, to between May and September.
“With increasing amounts of seismic exploration in Namibian waters recently, tuna catches have dropped from a little over 4 000 tonnes in 2011, to 1 800 tonnes in 2012 and 650 tonnes so far known to be caught during 2013,” Erastus said.
An unnamed oil and gas exploration company, which intends to conduct seismic exploration in February and March next year, has proposed to undertake a survey in South African waters in February.
“This is in direct path of tuna migrating from South Africa to Namibian waters,” Erastus said. “There are real concerns that the proposed February survey seismic blasts could send the tuna into avoidance mode, so they are not available to be caught by fishing vessels during would normally be the height of the pole-and-line season in Namibia,” Erastus said.
Seismic exploration should be permitted between May and September when the tuna fishing season ends in Namibia’s southern waters between 25-30 degrees at the Namibian and South African border, Erastus said.
The whole issue better managed with the co-operation of South Africa and Namibia has “alerted South Africa on the seriousness of the issue”, requesting the neighbouring country to “consider the same approach”.
“Tuna migrates up through South African waters to Namibia, and the South African tuna industry is similarly affected,” she said.
Namibia says it wants a responsible co-ordinated strategy developed with South Africa, failure of which ‘fishing and oil and gas seismic exploration sectors will not be able to co-exist’.
“Given the trans-boundary nature of tuna in particular, it is essential that a responsible co-ordinated strategy between Namibia and South Africa is developed, as otherwise the fishing and oil and gas seismic exploration sectors will not be able to co-exist,” she said.
Tuna landings are made at Namibia’s southern port of Luderitz with the pole-and-line fishing season starting in December to May.
In 2011, the tuna fishing industry provided an income to more than 450 Namibian fishermen and government says this number is now “drastically reduced”.
“What has been show is that the recent reduction in tuna catches over the last three years, parallels significant seismic exploration near the Tripp Seamount fishing grounds, and points very strongly to seismic exploration.”
Arguing for closer co-operation with South Africa in mitigating the problem, the Namibian government says that the matter is complicated by the fact that some of the seismic exploration has been occurring in South Africa. Studies show that tuna migrate internationally and on reaching Southern Africa, are primarily caught off Cape Town and then migrate north to Tripp Seamount, before heading out in the Atlantic Ocean.
Research has, however, shown that the west coast waters off South Africa are now being intensely surveyed by seismic exploration vessels, and this is all within the normal tuna migration path.
“Reports from South Africa are that tuna catches there are also much reduced and many boat owners are under severe financial pressure,” the government says.