Sounds mussel farm expansion fears

PENNY WARDLE
Last updated 15:43 21/05/2013

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Pelorus Sound farmer Bill Scholefield predicts a gold rush of applications to extend mussel farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

Scholefield, of Mt Zion Trust, objected yesterday to applications by Talley's Group and Clearwater Mussels to expand marine farms at Beatrix Bay, in Pelorus Sound, where he farms sheep, beef and mussels. 

The applications were heard by Marlborough District Council hearings commissioner Richard Fowler.

Council resource management officer Bruno Brosnan said the Talley's application to push out the boundary of a mussel farm at Beatrix Bay, to more than 400 metres offshore, would create a new benchmark for marine farm extensions that other consent holders were likely to follow.  

He recommended that the application be denied, but changed his stance to neutral during the hearing when Talley's pulled its proposed extension 50 metres closer to shore.

Scholefield said marine farms formed an almost continuous ribbon along the Beatrix Bay coastline.

Approving this application could lead to a second ribbon of development.  

"The whole bay has become a 24-hour industrial zone with loud music, revving engines, clanging and banging of mussel harvesters and spat collection boats and powerful lights lighting up the night sky when they are working on the lines," Scholefield said.

Mussel growth was already restricted by lack of nutrients and natural shellfish beds along the shore were devastated, he said.

Fowler set a precedent last year by approving an application by Knight Somerville to develop a 4.35 hectare mussel farm further offshore than usual, Scholefield said. That decision has been appealed and will be considered by the Environment Court. 

Talley's lawyer Murray Hunt said numbers were not relevant when deciding if marine farms could extend.

What mattered were aspects such as effects on the landscape, navigation, and environment.

Talley's expert witness and Clearwater director John Meredyth-Young said there was no evidence Beatrix Bay or the Sounds had reached capacity for marine farming. Mussel production had stayed stable during his 38 years in the industry.

Climate swings between La Nina and El Nino weather patterns explained fluctuating harvests, he said.

Talley's and Clearwater expert Ron Sutherland said modest expansion of existing farms was the most logical way to achieve Government and Aquaculture New Zealand's $1 billion target for the aquaculture industry by 2025.

Fowler said the lid was off these applications.  

"We are going to get more."

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John Allen of Grovetown objected to both applications, saying the Waitangi Tribunal was yet to consider a Waitaha claim over an area including Beatrix Bay, and marine farming in the Sounds was not sustainable.

Brosnan recommended that the Clearwater application be accepted, saying the boundaries were more closely aligned with land forms than in the Talley's application. 

The council had processed four other applications for new and expanded farms in Beatrix Bay, Brosnan said.

These similar applications were for space throughout the Sounds, especially in Pelorus Sound.

The applications went to hearings because marine farms extending more than 200 metres from shore do not comply with council rules.

BEATRIX BAY

- 35 marine farms, averaging 8.5 hectares

- 297ha allocated to marine farming, 15 per cent of the water area

- First marine farms established in the bay in 1980

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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