Full Press Release: Blasting along the west coast threatens the future of small scale fishers

Before the dust even gets a chance to settle on the recent court interdict stopping Shell’s seismic survey off the Eastern Cape on the 28th December 2021, another seismic survey is scheduled to begin on the 15th January 2022, not two weeks after the previous interdict. This survey is being conducted by SEARCHER GEODATA in an area where 16 companies have exploration (with one having production rights) recognised by PASA who have been given a permit to conduct seismic surveys on the west coast stretching from the Namibian border to Cape Point, essentially the entire west coast of South Africa. On the 13 January 2022, small scale fisher communities and their lawyers sent a letter to Gwede Mantashe, Minister of the Department of Minerals and Energy (DMRE) outlining their grave concern over the approval of the application for the seismic survey by SEARCHER GEODATA in November 2021. What are their concerns? 

Fishers have fished along this coast for generations

There are over 30 Small-scale fishing communities who have fished along this coastline since time immemorial. These fishers represent traditional and indigenous fishing communities whose cultures and food security are tied to the ocean and coastline of this country and their practice of fishing.  Their fishing cultures have been passed down across generations and they intend to pass this rich cultural and ecological heritage to the next generation of fishers.

This survey threatens small scale fishers livelihoods

As the Shell court interdict revealed and the recent publication released by 11 top South African Marine scientists (The academy’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies – SAGE), these seismic surveys have reasonable apprehension of real harm to marine life.  Of particular concern for small scale fishers, is the impact these surveys will have on the Snoek (Thyrsites atun) fishery, which forms the basis of their livelihood. The surveys will be conducted directly within the snoek migration routes and breeding habitat. 

Small scale fishers have reported considerable changes to the species they rely on, which they attribute to climate change as well as the cumulative impact of mining activities along the coast. They are concerned what deeper sea oil and gas extraction and the seismic surveys impacts will have on the fish that their lives depend on. 

We thought it was just Shell to worry about, here comes 15 other companies to keep your eye on. 

On the 13 January 2022, small scale fisher communities and their lawyers sent a letter to Gwede Mantashe, Minister of the Department of Minerals and Energy (DMRE) outlining their grave concern over the approval of the application for the seismic survey by SEARCHER GEODATA in November 2021.  DMRE this application by SEARCHER GEODATA in an area where DMRE has already allocated 11 rights holders (comprising 16 companies) exploration rights on the West Coast, in the area known as the Orange Basin. 

Since 2014 with the government’s operation Phakisa policy, the ocean floor has been parceled out in the form of exploration rights for Oil and Gas. 

Who are the rights holders and companies that could benefit from SEARCHER’S surveys?

  1. Kosmos Energy/ Shell/ OK Energy
  2. PetroSA
  3. Ricocure/ Azinam/ Africa Oil
  4. Sezigyn
  5. Sunbird / PetroSA
  6. Sungu Sungu
  7. Total Energies / Seizgyn
  8. Total Energies / Impact Africa
  9. Total Energies / Shell / PetroSA
  10. Thombo Petroleum / Main Street / Panoro / Azinam
  11. Tosaco Energy 

This survey violates Small Scale Fisher rights

In the letter to Mantashe, the fishers inform the minister that the vast majority of small-scale fishers, if not all of them, were not aware of this application for a permit until last week when they were informed on social media by various organisations working in the sector.  These organisations came to know about this through a petition that was published on social media however there is NO information available on any website about this survey, other than the letter from PASA granting SEARCHER this permit and the notification of the grant. The planning documents associated with this application are no longer on the Environmental Consultants, SRL’s, website and so it’s impossible to get an understanding of substance of this application. This lack of consultation and of fisher communities is a direct violation of their rights. The fishers state that small-scale fishing communities were not adequately consulted about this seismic survey which covers a vast area that overlaps with their fishing grounds.

Recent Court Judgement should set a precedent 

The judgement in the recent court case against DMRE and SHELL and others (Case 3451/2021) in the Makhanda High Court, sets a precedent that all surveys should be halted until proper consultation and research into the impact of these surveys can be established. The SEARCHER GEODATA survey process has followed the same modus operandi as SHELL. They have failed to respect Small Scale Fishers and have ignored their fishing rights and their cultural rights. As the letter to Mantashe states: “They have not bothered to consult us and engage us on this proposed survey or explain it to us.  We were not provided with any information about it. In addition, we are informed by support organisations that they have not undertaken an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and obtained environmental authorisation in terms of NEMA Act 107 of 1998 as required.”

In this matter the Court found that SHELL was obliged to consult meaningfully with the individuals and communities that would be impacted by this survey. 

What needs to be done

The Small Scale Fishers and supporting organisations and groups have suggested three clear actions that need to be taken in response to seismic surveys in South African waters.  

  1. Moratorium on all Seismic Surveys: The Fishers call for a full moratorium on all seismic surveys and other applications in South African waters. 
  2. A fully transparent and inclusive nationwide consultation and development of a pathway to a just transition towards SA’s energy future. 
  3. We need a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA): based on the consultation above, we need strategic environmental assessment of the ocean. That puts social justice at the heart of the future of ocean use and governance. 

How can you support Small Scale Fishers in this?

Small Scale Fishers across the country are at the frontline of Ocean Defense and protection, yet they are under resourced and expected to comment on and engage with many different processes around ocean decision making and governance, you can help them in this work in many ways:

  1. Find out who your local Small Scale fishing communities, organisations and cooperative are, and ask how you can support them. You can use this Coastal Justice Network Map (www.coastaljusticenetwork.co.za) to locate the name of the fishing communities, organisations or co-ops and get in touch with them to offer assistance. 
  2. Many of the decision making processes since COVID19 have moved online, but many fishers don’t have access to data, smart phones or computers – if you are keen to donate these, please get in touch with your coop to donate, or contact the Coastal Justice Network 
  3. Donate your time to help fishers with the administration and organising that is required to prepare for meetings, organise meetings, draft affidavits for court cases etc. 

Artwork credits: Dylan McGarry