The Environmental Protection Authority has approved four new salmon farms for the Marlborough Sounds in a draft decision announced today.
The authority's board of inquiry sat for nine weeks in Blenheim, hearing about 1200 submissions on NZ King Salmon's proposal to set up nine new salmon farms in areas of the Marlborough Sounds where marine farming is banned under the Marlborough District Council's resource management plans.
The board's draft report ruled that farms at Papatua, Ngamahau, Waitata and Richmond were allowed, and farms at five other places were declined.
The draft decision and report can be found here.
The resource consents cover the four sites for a 35-year term.
The draft report and decision is now open for comment by New Zealand King Salmon, all submitters, the Minister of Conservation, the Minister for the Environment and Marlborough District Council.
They can comment on minor and technical aspects of the report only, not on the Board of Inquiry's decision or its reasons for that decision, until February 8.
The board will consider the comments and provide its final report and decision by February 22.
Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said the council needed to understand why the board had gone against the long-established Marlborough position that activity in the Sounds should be clearly separated with one area for industry, another for recreation.
Sowman said the council itself never had a fully developed position on the King Salmon application because, as the local authority, it never had the opportunity to consider the merits of the proposal through its existing processes.
The council has stated only that it did not believe that its resource management plan should be set aside, he said.
The district council would also have to consider the decision's precedent-setting implications for future aquaculture activity in the Marlborough Sounds.
"However, before we make any detailed comment about the planning issues within this report, we will need to study it and fully consider the implications for the Marlborough Sounds."
With the draft decision released, the council would work with King Salmon to progress its plans, he said.
"We look forward to engaging with the company - particularly to hear more about its plans for job expansion within Marlborough."
A salmon processing plant in Picton would be the ideal outcome now that the company had the go-ahead to expand.
"I believe King Salmon is acutely aware that they have a big public relations challenge ahead with a significant portion of the Marlborough community.
"But I am sure that the company will put time and effort into building bridges here and the council will be very open to working with King Salmon," he said.
- The Marlborough Express