Mussel farms lose permits

The Environment Court has refused to renew mussel-farming rights at three sites at Port Gore in the outer Marlborough Sounds.

Aquaculture manager Ted Culley said this was the first time he knew of existing marine farming permits being declined.

"As a significant aquaculturist in the Marlborough Sounds, this gives Sanford concerns as to what might happen in the future," Mr Culley said. The company was taking advice on whether to appeal the decision in the High Court.

Sanford owns two of the affected farms and Port Gore Marine Farms (PGMF) the third.

In court, Sanford argued that its two affected farms produced 600 tonnes of mussels in a year, which represented 12 jobs.

Mr Culley rejected the panel's advice that if they refused consent for the farms, new coastal water space could be found elsewhere along Marlborough's coastline so the jobs would not be lost.

Cliff Marchant, who has lived at Port Gore for 26 years, said property owners had joined forces with Friends of Nelson Haven and Tasman Bay, resulting in a good decision. After fighting the farms for more than 20 years, he appreciated the opportunity to at last be heard in court.

"Port Gore is such a jewel for wilderness recreation in the Marlborough Sounds," Mr Marchant said. "It is one of the last places with remoteness qualities which are harder and harder for people like kayakers, boaties and trampers to find."

If the board of inquiry appointed to hear an application by New Zealand King Salmon to expand at nine sites applied the intense scrutiny as the Environment Court, they would reach the same conclusion, he said. Proposed King Salmon sites included Papatua, in Port Gore.

Lawyer Philip Milne, of Wellington, said this was the first time the Environment Court had acknowledged operational impacts of mussel farming as well as visual effects. It was also the first case considered in the light of the 2010 New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, said Mr Milne who represented Mr Marchant and Friends of Nelson Haven and Tasman Bay.

The court recognised that farming and harvesting mussels was noisy, intrusive and involved a large number of servicing and harvesting boats. The decision says the applicants proposed submerging their farms, but lighting would be visible at night.

Mr Milne said the farms were developed in an area where aquaculture was later prohibited by the Marlborough District Council.

The court had accepted that marine farming on this side of Port Gore was inappropriate and decided the "three farms had to go".

Steffan Browning, of Friends of Nelson Haven and Tasman Bay, said the decision recognised the eastern side of Port Gore was an outstanding natural landscape, which was remote and wild.

This was a good sign for those opposing King Salmon's expansion into an area where marine farming was prohibited in council plans.

Marlborough District Council decisions to renew two of the consents and decline one, for a Sanford farm, were appealed in the Environment Court.

Judge Jon Jackson and commissioners Helen Beaumont and Alex Sutherland heard the appeal.

The Marlborough Express