Loutish outlander alien trout get out
It's the rainbow nation on land, not underwater. The discovery of three "alien" rainbow trout in Langebaan Lagoon has fuelled fears that "South African" fish could be gobbled up by the predatory species preferred by coastal fish farmers.
News of the unwelcome visitors has surfaced in an environmental study of the Saldanha Bay/Langebaan Lagoon area, which is considered one of SA's most valuable fish spawning areas.
The report says the trout were almost certainly escapees from an experimental fish farm in Saldanha Bay, where the government intends licensing more aquaculture projects inside an aquaculture development zone, despite many objections.
But the fish farm at the centre of the controversy, Molapong Aquaculture, hit back this week, claiming the real issue was not breakouts but "break-ins" at its sea cages, which have been subject to apparent vandalism and poaching - and even a military parabat dropping in from above.
The company acknowledges that the rainbow trout most likely originated from its cages, but denies knowledge of any escape.
Rainbow trout are indigenous to the Pacific and North America region and are a popular aquaculture species due to high market demand.
Critics of the Saldanha Bay project say the earmarked site is too close to Langebaan Lagoon and should rather be land-based where it poses less environmental risk.
The trout are notorious predators; a freshwater variety has colonised many South African rivers, displacing meeker local species.
Prior to her death earlier this year, environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa granted approval for an expanded Saldanha farming project, prompting a legal challenge from a coalition of environmental groups and Langebaan residents.
Objectors also include the South African National Defence Force, which has a military base nearby, and the South African Boat Builders Export Council.
News of the rainbow trout "escapees" surfaced last month in an annual environmental report commissioned by the Saldanha Bay Water Quality Forum Trust. The fish were caught in gill nets by fishermen inside Langebaan Lagoon, the report said.
Charles Rickens, spokesperson for the Save the Langebaan Lagoon campaign, said: "The Langebaan Lagoon area is a huge tourist hub. If that gets disrupted by pollution (from fish tanks) or a shark attack, it would have a huge impact on the tourism industry."
Tim Reddell, MD of Viking Aquaculture, which owns Molapong Aquaculture, said aquaculture should be viewed as a major benefit to society, not a risk. He said the farms were situated far enough away from the lagoon not to interfere with recreational activities.
Reddell also hit out at saboteurs who appeared to have targeted the company's fish cages: "It is very sad and very disheartening to get to the cage and find a net cut and the bird-scaring net removed, and to find fish hooks left there," Reddell said.
The department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries this week said it did not consider the capture of one trout to be of major concern: "The capture of one trout in Langebaan Lagoon was reported to the relevant structures," the department said in response to Sunday Times queries.
"In the event of trout escaping, it is anticipated that the potential impact would be short-lived. The local environmental conditions are not conducive for trout to become a self-sustaining population."
It also said the planned aquaculture zone had been reduced by more than 50%, from 1,800ha to 884ha, following public consultation.