September 30, 2016
THE fisheries ministry is mulling over an application by a Chinese company which wants to capture live Namibian marine mammals for export to China for breeding.
Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research, a company which is registered in Namibia but owned by a Chinese businessman, is working with the Beijing Ruier Animal Breeding and Promoting entity as its technical support partner.
The Namibian understands that the company has applied to be allowed to export 10 orca (killer whales); 500-1 000 Cape fur seals; 300-500 African penguins; 50-100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins; 50-100 common bottlenose dolphins; and various sharks.
Fisheries ministry permanent secretary Moses Maurihungirire yesterday confirmed that they had received such an application, and were looking into the matter. Maurihungirire, who admitted that dolphins, penguins and whales were endangered and protected species, also said these species were not plentiful in Namibian waters.
According to documents seen by The Namibian, the company will invest N$300 million it says would be important for the protection and management of these marine resources.
The company also says it will pay the relevant taxes when the animals are exported, adding that the Chinese market for the creatures is “enormous”.
In addition, the company says it will introduce leading scientific technologies, and strictly abide by international and Namibian laws and regulations in managing the marine species.
The proposal is, however, based on several assumptions, among them that Namibia does not have a marine mammal monitoring strategy to enable the country to harvest excess resources.
It also assumes that Namibia has “abundant” seals, penguins, dolphins and orcas, fin whales, pygmy whales and heavyside dolphins.
Namibia’s fish catches, the proposal further assumes, have been on a downward spiral in recent years because the number of dolphins, whales and seals have dramatically increased, and prey on the fish.
It further claimed that the project could be of great importance to Namibia to determine the precise nature of its marine mammals and the impact they have on fisheries.
“We trust that government will provide us with the required licence to engage in this project on a scientific and sustainable basis,” the document reads.
The presence of a Russian vessel – the Ryazanovka manned by a Chinese crew – at Walvis Bay since 18 August has raised red flags.
This vessel was previously involved in the highly controversial capture of orcas along the Russian Pacific coast some years ago. The chairperson of the Namibia Environment and Wildlife Society Frauke Kreitz said the removal of the listed species will not improve Namibia’s fish stocks.
Instead, she said, this will worsen the already bad situation regarding the status of threatened and uncommon species in Namibian waters.
“For ethical and conservation reasons, there has been a move away from acquiring wild-captured animals to obtaining captive-bred animals in zoos and aquaria,” Kreitz said, adding that they regard such capture of the desired species as unnecessary, even in low numbers.
“Capturing wild animals is highly stressful, and is invariably accompanied by a high mortality rate during capture,” she explained.
According to Kreitz, cetaceans (carnivorous, finned, aquatic marine mammals) live in complex social groups, and the indiscriminate removal of individuals could have a serious impact on population dynamics.
A marine specialist, who declined to be named, said Namibia was blessed with a variety of whales and dolphins, some only found in the Benguela Current.
The specialist said if Namibia sells its dolphins to the Russians or Chinese, it would have catastrophic consequences for the cetacean populations as well as coastal tourism, and the reputation of Namibia as a high-value nature tourism destination.
On the presence of the Ryazanovka at Walvis Bay, the specialist said the ship has been heavily modified for this purpose, and its unexplained presence in Namibian ports raises major concerns among coastal residents and tour operators.
Maurihungirire said he cannot disclose what the fisheries ministry will recommend.
“All I can say is that we know what we are doing. The answer we will have for them will be very prudent. We will be responsible, and the public will be happy with our answer,” he noted.
According to Maurihungirire, there have been similar applications in the past, and companies do have a right to apply. He said the company will be informed next week about his ministry’s decision.