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Fish farms: The other side of the coin

GARY HOOPER
Last updated 11:17 19/11/2012

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Bay Chronicle

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OPINION: Aquaculture provides New Zealand a tremendous opportunity to create regional jobs, support the economy of local communities and generate much needed export earnings, while sustainably producing premium seafood.

I commend Te Runanga O Ngati Rehia and their spokeswoman Nora Rameka for their struggle to make positive change in their community through sustainable marine farming - and I also share their exasperation at the nature and arguments of some opponents.

As the industry's lead representative body we support sustainable aquaculture growth in New Zealand and welcome informed discussion on the industry based on relevant fact.

Public consultation is an important part of process and everyone is entitled to have their say, but out-dated information, unsubstantiated claims and extreme exaggerations do everyone a disservice.

Aquaculture is not a choice between economic growth or environmental sustainability - it is a means of achieving both and people shouldn't be made to feel guilty for supporting sustainable economic development in their community.

Outspoken critic Roger Grace has highlighted the importance of effective seabed management practices. In New Zealand, farm sites are carefully chosen so they are not located over areas of important ecological value.

Each farm must also have a resource consent, which in effect is a licence with strict conditions, set and enforced by the regional councils to control the number of fish, volume of feed and the degree of change acceptable underneath a farm.

It should also be noted that fish farming is an extremely efficient form of food production.

The New Zealand salmon farming industry produces more fish protein than it consumes and the small amount of wild fish used in the salmon diet is sourced from the well-managed Peruvian anchovy fishery. Feed is the most expensive part of fish farming and great investment in innovation ensures very little goes uneaten. The conversion rates cited by Dr Grace are long out-of-date.

His suggestions that New Zealand aquaculture is responsible for toxic algal blooms are not supported by science or the wider science community.

The New Zealand aquaculture industry has been farming in local waters for over 40 years, in which time they've evolved from a group of innovative pioneers, to a proven, highly-specialised and progressive, science-based industry, that employs more than 3000 Kiwis and generated over $400 million in revenue last year alone.  

We have a proud history of strong environmental processes independently recognised as world leading.

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We have genuine diversity in our aquaculture industry; farming our waters are not only some well-known companies, but also family owned businesses with expertise handed down through generations. What they all have in common are locals earning their living, with a real stake in their local community and environment.

Aquaculture is now the world's fastest growing primary industry and demand for aquaculture products is expected to strengthen significantly as the world's population grows and wild-catch levels remain relatively static. United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation figures show aquaculture produces about 47% of seafood consumed globally with production growing at a rate of approximately 6.3% annually for the past decade. Aquaculture will soon produce more seafood than wild fisheries.

As one of the world's most efficient forms of food production, it can play an important role in feeding the world. More than this, people's consumption of seafood is increasing as they actively seek foods that are nutritious, healthy and delicious.

New Zealand aquaculture delivers such quality seafood internationally, and just as importantly, domestically. New Zealand aquaculture products are exported to 79 countries and considered among the world's best seafood. Their taste, health properties, quality and versatility see them served at parties in New York, white tablecloth restaurants in London and at backyard barbecues down under.

The high quality of New Zealand coastal waters, their natural productiveness, along with the prevalence of sheltered harbours and inlets create ideal conditions for aquaculture. Couple this with our world class environmental management practices and reputation for quality and food safety and we are well-placed to capitalise on this food growing revolution with high value premium seafood products. As a country we should be proud that New Zealand is recognised globally for the safety and quality of its aquaculture produce. 

At 15,000 km, we have one of the longest coastlines in the world, and our marine farms occupy only a tiny fraction of our coastal waters. Our farmers are ever mindful that they operate in public water space and work hard to be good neighbours.  Careful site selection and a co-operative approach help farms remain in balance with fellow water users. Applications for new farms are assessed by local Councils in an approach that is robust and provides a powerful check and balance by examining environmental sustainability, economic benefit, navigation, recreational water users, iwi and existing businesses.  Public and community consultation is an integral part of the process.  

Every farm application must satisfy this process and will be judged on its own merits regardless of what has come before it.

At no point is water space privatised - ownership remains with the Crown on behalf of the New Zealand public, and it is up to the Crown to determine the best use of these resources.  Aquaculture is a legitimate, sustainable coastal activity, and while some waters are better suited to fishing or boating, some waters are best used to farm premium seafood and generate tangible benefits for New Zealand - jobs, income, improved coastal infrastructure - contributing to the wellbeing of New Zealand, just like all our primary industries do.

Take a step back and consider that sustainable growth in the sector will inject much needed export earnings into communities and the economy, generate more regional jobs and support a host of associated industries.

Aquaculture is good for communities, good for the economy and good for New Zealand.

Gary Hooper,
Aquaculture New Zealand, CEO

- Bay Chronicle

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