Flyfishers scale up fight with minister over ‘unlawful’ trout move
Group goes to court, saying Molewa didn't follow the act in listing trout and other species as invasive
A group of South Africans believe there is something fishy about the process followed to list trout and other species as “alien and invasive” – and now court action has been launched to put a halt to it.
On August 31, the Federation of South African Flyfishers (Fosaf) filed papers in the High Court in Pretoria against Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, arguing that proposed amendments to the Alien and Invasive Species Lists were unlawful. Molewa, the group argues, did not follow the prescripts of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) when she issued a notice opening the proposed changes for public comment in February.
According to attorney Ian Cox, a member of the federation, the department had not yet filed responding papers or indicated its intention to respond.
Guy Preston, the deputy director-general, told Business Day last week the department would oppose the application. He dismissed the notion that the listing would destroy the trout value chain as “alarmist”.
“The point is to prevent the further invasion of trout into areas where they are not yet occurring,” said Preston.
In a press statement outlining its case, Fosaf argues that Molewa failed to properly advertise the notices; failed to adhere to the prescribed time limits; and failed to provide sufficient information to enable members of the public to submit meaningful representations or objections.
Fosaf argues, in essence, that Molewa – who is the sole respondent listed in the court papers, seen by Times Select – “is intent on listing trout and a number of other economically useful species as invasive without first telling the public why this is necessary”.
In its statement, the group’s national chairperson, Alan Lax, says listing trout as an invasive species would be “catastrophic”.
“The consequences for recreational trout angling as well as for freshwater aquaculture will be catastrophic. Both drive large downstream value chains that employ thousands of people and generate over a billion rand in annual revenue, largely in rural areas where opportunity for work is limited,” Lax said.
He continued that, should the proposals become law, stocking or farming trout would immediately become a criminal offence unless a permit was granted by Molewa’s office. However, such a permit was “not easily obtained” and was also subject to extensive and expensive investigations.
“To make matters worse, there is presently no capacity and infrastructure in place in government to issue those permits and the skills required to undertake the necessary investigations are in short supply.
“In the meantime, it will be a criminal offence to maintain the existing trout fishery or to operate the present 1,800-ton-per-annum trout farming sector. Billions of rand in investment and jobs will be destroyed overnight,” Lax said in the statement.
In the court papers, Fosaf wants the court to rule that Molewa cannot promulgate any alien and invasive species regulations or lists, and also to declare that she contravened Section 100 of NEMBA.
Cox told Times Select the litigation was “not about whether or not trout is an invasive species”, but about the government not following the prescripts of the law.
“We, of course, say trout is not [an invasive species], and the Department of Environmental Affairs says they are. But you can’t debate this properly until they [government] go through a proper consultation process.
“It’s a civil liberty thing,” said Cox.
In a statement published on March 7, the department stood by its stance to list trout as an invasive species. It said that both the rainbow trout and the brown trout could be listed as category 2 invasive species, which means they could be utilised with a permit.
“There is no threat to responsible trout aquaculture, or to the ‘value chain’. There is no reason why a responsible trout hatchery in a demarcated area should be inhibited in any way to grow its business.
“It is the considered view of the department and its partners that the brown trout and rainbow trout are correctly listed as category 2 invasive species. It is further our collective view that this listing poses no threat to trout aquaculture and the trout value chain. Indeed, the invasive legislation – and its vigorous enforcement – is pivotal to sustaining these industries,” the department said.