SUAPE lawsuit (re social & environmental impacts on fishing communities in Brazil)
In 2011, the Federal Public Ministry of Brazil filed a lawsuit against the State Agency for the Environment and Water Resources, and the Governador Eraldo Gueiros Port Industrial Complex (SUAPE) to halt dredging that cause socio-environmental damages and affect the livelihoods of local fishing communities.
The Governador Eraldo Gueiros Industrial Port Complex (SUAPE) is a 13,500-hectare megaproject built in Brazil in 1978, between the municipalities of Ipojuca and Cabo Santo Agostinho. The project includes significant dredging work, during which sediments from the seabed are removed to allow ships to access the port.
The SUAPE Complex is built on land that has been inhabited by fishing communities for several generations, including the Colônia de Pescadores do Cabo de Santo Agostinho Z-08 commnunity, who have worked in the local mangroves, rivers and sea since 1938.
According to the fishermen, SUAPE banned them from fishing in the dredged areas and has been using explosives since 2008 to facilitate the dredging, killing thousands of fish .
As a result, fish stock has decreased by at least 50%, drastically impacting the livelihoods of the fishing community.
The lawsuit alleges that the dredging wase carried out based on studies that had not foreseen the environmental impacts, how this would affect artisanal fishing activities in the region, appropriate compensation, nor mitigating measures.
By directly affecting artisanal fishing communities, the environmental impacts on the marine ecosystem, have also caused social impacts. Throughout the legal proceedings, numerous technical opinions from the State Agency for the Environment and Water Resources and the Federal Public Ministry verified the socio-environmental impacts of SUAPE’s activities on the fishing territories.
The Brazilian Federal Constitution (article 225 Federal Constitution) and administrative decrees were also used in the lawsuit.
In April 2011, the Federal Public Ministry (Ministry) filed a public civil action against the State Agency for the Environment and Water Resources (State Agency) and the Governador Eraldo Gueiros Port Industrial Complex (SUAPE). The lawsuit aimed to halt dredging activities in the port area of SUAPE until a careful analysis of their socio-economic impacts. In particular, the claimants demand an assessment and determination of the locations of proposed oceanic "dumps," and the implementation of measure to mitigate and compensate measures socio-environmental impacts resulting from these activities.
In October 2016, the Federal Regional Court ruled in favour of the Ministry and the fishing community. The decision conditioned the continued licence of dredging to the implementation of compensatory and mitigating measures, of a financial and social nature, for the impact of dredging. Some of these compensatory and mitigating measures included: mapping underwater habitats in areas of direct and indirect SUAPE’s influence, quantifying the areas that belong to fishing communities which were appropriated or impacted--directly or indirectly--by the port, and adopting measures to mitigate the potential impacts for future dredging activities.
SUAPE appealed the decision, and in 2019 the Federal Regional Court upheld the lower court decision.
In 2019, the company appealed to the Superior Court of Justice. In 2020, the First Panel of the Superior Court of Justice overturned the 2019 Federal Regional Court decision and ruled in favour of SUAPE.
The fishermen appealed twice, but the STJ upheld the previous decision in favour of the company.
In 2021 the fishermen filed an extraordinary appeal with the Federal Supreme Court challenging the Superior Court of Justice judgment.
In December 2021, the Superior Court of Justice, responsible for "screening" the appeals for the Federal Supreme Court, dismissed the extraordinary appeal. The fishing community appealed this decision.