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Mussel farm appeal possible

KERI MOLLOY
Last updated 08:41 07/02/2013
Whangapoua Harbour
ON BALANCE: Whangaroa Harbour and its coastal area is seen as unspoiled and unique, and a haven for boats using the coast in the top part of the country. But jobs are needed.

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Consents for a 94 hectare marine farm off Stephenson Island near Whangaroa are likely to appealed.

Submitter David Keys says he is disappointed with the decision by two independent commissioners, granting various resource consents to Westpac Mussels Distributors.

"There were hundreds of submissions against it and we believe there has been procedural bias in favour of the applicant. We don't think the commissioners listened to compelling evidence against the proposal."

However Northland MP Mike Sabin welcomes the decision.

The proposed farms are designed mainly to farm mussels, gather and collect mussel spat, and raise other shellfish. It is also proposed to use the area for occasional cleansing of shellfish from polluted waters and growing oysters and raising other shellfish such as scallops and paua.

"In their decision the commissioners, appointed by the Northland Regional Council, cited the significant economic benefits this venture will bring to an impoverished area. One of my main goals as an MP is to help Northland realise its economic potential and projects such as this demonstrate where some of that potential can be derived," Mr Sabin said.

The original 125ha application was cut to 94ha by the commissioners.

Mr Sabin says the resource consent process and the related hearings have allowed for a decision which strikes a balance across the stakeholders concerned.

"Expansion of aquaculture is something the National-led Government is keen to progress and we see it as a potential $1 billion per year industry to New Zealand by 2025, with Northland likely to play a significant part in that. The aquaculture industry in Northland has really struggled through tough times with the herpes virus causing major losses to oyster stocks across the region in the last couple of years and this latest development could assist as something of a circuit breaker.

The applications were notified in October 2011, attracting 14 submissions in support, two neutral and 261 opposed.

The commissioners said there were some minor, or possibly more than minor, adverse effects requiring mitigation and that could only be achieved by modifying Westpac Mussel's proposal.

These included effects on the outstanding natural character of nearby Cone Island, on the natural character of the margin of Stephenson Island, on small boat anchoring and recreational and Maori customary fishing.

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The commissioners granted Westpac Mussels the consents needed for the proposed farm, but for a reduced 94.05ha area, roughly 30ha smaller than had been sought, to mitigate the adverse effects and to ensure the farm is at least 200 metres from the edge of Stephenson Island.

The farm - once fully operational - is expected to provide 87 fulltime jobs in the region, with another 21 jobs elsewhere and boost regional GDP by $5.5 million.

The commissioners noted support from the Ririwha Ahu Whenua Trust, which represents the Maori owners of Stephenson Island.

The consents will last for 35 years. However, the farm will also require a bond of $132,000 to aid clean-up and restoration of the site "should the operation cease".

- Northland

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