On September 6, the Namib Times baffled conservationists around the globe, when they ran the story that a Chinese businessman had filed a request to catch bottlenose dolphins, orcas, sea lions and penguins in the waters of Namibia to sell on the Asian market for aquarium animals.
The applicants were named as “Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research Pty Ltd” and “Beijing Ruier Animal Breeding & Promoting Co.” Nothing is known about these companies and possibly they were purposely created for this application.
The Namibian Government first denied the application and then shrouded itself in silence.
The rumours were further fuelled by the presence of the Russian trawler Ryazanovka in Namibian waters. The vessel is said to be specifically modified to catch marine wildlife, including an onboard tank for captive dolphins and was reportedly used for the purpose of catching dolphins in Russia.
In November, the named applicants were linked to a prominent Chinese businessman in Namibia.
By December 5, the Ryazanovka trawler was alongside the dock in Walvisbaai’s main port, according to the Namibian Sun, taking in “bunkers, stores and water. The volumes are enormous.” The question was: are the vessel and its crew readying for catching operations in Namibian waters or have the owners given up on the wildlife trade proposal and are preparing to leave? Trade Ocean, the vessel’s agent told the Namibian Sun they would not comment on any matter relating to the vessel.
All the while the fisheries ministry had remained silent on whether a permit had either been granted or denied to Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research to catch Namibian marine wildlife.
Then on December 20, a statement by the Ryazanovka’s master Ilya Sharapov, mystifying in its rudeness, was published in the Namib Times. The master said he represented Beijing Ruier Animal Breeding and Promoting Company. The statement, directed at “ALL Namibian media”, said, after some unsupported sustainable use claims, that because of the negative publicity Namibia was going to miss out on N$100 million in initial investments and that the objectors consisted of “mostly wealthy people inside and outside Namibia whose countries supported apartheid in the past which led to the current economic oppression of thousands of Namibians, and some of those who because of their white skin directly benefitted from the discriminatory apartheid policies.”
Just as insulting is that twice in the letter the marine mammals proposed to be caught, such as dolphins and sea lions, are labelled as “excess”.
The statement also claims that “many more millions” would have been invested in a “state of the art marine park on the Namibian coast.”
This may sound like a strange investment in a developing nation where getting enough to eat every day is for many still a priority over dolphin circus entertainment, but not if you look at the needs of the captive trade. Dolphins and other marine life caught, could not stay indefinitely on board of the catcher vessel en would certainly not survive sea transport to Asia. Wild-caught dolphins would have to be landed in Namibia and airlifted out to the destination of the buyer’s choice. Between capture and transport the valuable animals would have to be ‘stored’ somewhere. In Taiji, Japan, the harbour pens of the Fishermen’s union and Dolphin Base, the concrete tanks at Taiji Dolphin Resort Hotel and the entire facility of the Taiji Whale Museum fulfil that role. Russia has Srednyaya Cove, about 100 miles outside Vladivostok, as a holding facility for wild-caught belugas. Namibia’s dolphin wholesalers would need a place of their own as well.
At the end of the statement the master writes: “we have come to the conclusion of withdrawing our investment proposition. … Our ship will be repaired in Walvis Bay and will leave the country.”
This comes however with a promise: “… one day when the Namibian Government is ready, we may return.”
Namibian authorities responded that they had not been informed of the application’s withdrawal … and so the soap opera continues.
Just before the end of 2016, it was reported that the crew of the Ryazanovka, now at anchor again at Walvisbaai, have been mending and readying large fishing nets, probably purse seines. The Namibian Marine Resources Act 27 of 2000, regulation 12(1) reads: “A person who engages in the harvest of marine resources of commercial purposes in Namibian waters may not use any fishing gear that is not authorised by a right, exploratory right, quota or licence.” Regulation 12(2) reads: “The master of a licensed fishing vessel which carries on board fishing gear not authorised by a right, exploratory right, quota or licence must…(b) keep the fishing gear securely stowed away at all times.” The activity on board the Ryazanovka could therefor be labeled as illegal.
Meanwhile the Namibian Government who should have canned the proposal when it was submitted in March, stays mostly silent. When something is said, it is usually a hiding behind bureaucracy. Like when in the first week of January Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Penomwenyo Shifeta said: “Any utilisation or removal of natural resources can only be done after issuing an environmental clearance certificate and if we are convinced that the removal … will not threaten those species”. He said no environmental clearance certificate had been applied for in the case of the marine animal application, that the fisheries ministry could not issue such permit in the absence of an environmental clearance certificate and thus that “even if they get a permit, it will be invalid”. Only a politician can get away with saying things like that.
The world will keep closely watching the proces. Namibian politicians have already tarnished the image of their country through the merciless persecution of local wildlife such as the Cape fur seal. Another assault on Namibia’s reputation will for sure harm the Namibian tourism industry, one of the main pillars under the country’s economy.