Namibian fishing sector protests marine mining project

Published on
September 24, 2019

Namibian fishing industry workers and organizations are protesting the licensing of miners to prospect for minerals in the country’s coastal seabed and are asking the government to declare a moratorium on issuance of any new permits and to revoke any previously granted as to protect the country’s fisheries and aquaculture sector, the second-largest export earner of foreign currency after mining.

Protests broke out early this month in Windhoek and Walvis Bay as leading Namibian fishing industry organizations, including the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations, the Namibian Hake Association, and the Midwater Trawling Association of Namibia – with the backing of National Union of Namibian Workers and Trade Union Congress of Namibia – petitioned Environment Minister Pohamba Shifeta to reject issuance of an environmental clearance certificate that would pave the way for marine phosphate mining, which they said will “compromise economic, environmental, and social endeavors.”

The three fishing organizations have appealed to Namibia’s High Court to have the mining permit granted to NMP in 2011 nullified, arguing no proper environmental impact assessment was carried out before it was issued. 

The protests were triggered by increasing pressure from phosphate prospecting company Namibia Marine Phosphate Ltd (NMP) for the reinstatement of its environmental clearance permit for the so-called Sandpiper Project, which allowed it preliminary access to parts of Namibia’s offshore seabed.

In 2011, the company was granted a mining license ahead of the environmental clearance certificate issued in September 2015 by Namibia’s environmental commissioner. However, the award of the certificate was reversed by the environment minister, who set it aside in November 2016 primarily on the ground that the commissioner “did not adequately consult the public and interested persons.”

But NMP successfully appealed the minister’s decision, receiving a positive verdict from the Namibian High Court in 2018. With clearance gained, NMP has defended the project and denied reports the undertaking would destroy Namibia’s fishing industry, arguing there is no scientific evidence to back up the claim.

“Numerous scientific studies of the data from the site support expert opinion that the Sandpiper Project will not ‘kill or detrimentally impact the fishing industry,’ as has been circulated in the media,” the company said in early September

Furthermore, NMP had previously enlisted the services of an independent fisheries specialist to research and advise on the likely impact of NMP projects on Namibia's commercial fishing industry. The specialist concluded the Sandpiper Project would have “medium to low” impact on the commercial fishing sector “primarily because the area to be mined (annually up to three square kilometers and for the 20-year mining lifespan up to 60 square kilometers) is a small fraction of the overall Namibian fishing grounds.”

"The impact on Namibian fisheries will vary depending on the fishing sector,” the specialist’s report said. “The operations of all fisheries will in some way, and at different levels of intensity, be impacted.”

However, the report cautions the negative impact is likely to increase “significantly if mining of this nature is to be expanded or alternative mine sites introduced."

NMP said the report shows the Sandpiper Project does not represent a significant threat to the nation’s fishing sector.

"There will still be a fishing industry long after NMP has finished dredging [and] there is no intention on our part to destroy the industry,” NMP said.

Namibia’s Chamber of Mines, the trade group representing the mining sector, has offered to work with the government to “expedite the process of formulating a workable strategy to progress marine phosphate mining in Namibia, one that supports a healthy co-existence with the environment and other sectors of the economy.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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