King shags' habitat debated
The endangered king shag is the canary in the cage of planned salmon farming in the Marlborough Sounds, a Niwa scientist agreed under questioning on Friday.
National Institute of Water and Atmosphere scientist Paul Sagar agreed with bird scientist Rob Schuckard's description at an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) hearing being held in Blenheim.
Mr Sagar was an expert for New Zealand King Salmon, supporting its application to build nine new fish farms in the Marlborough Sounds. He said king shags roosted only in the Marlborough Sounds and, at last count, there were 687 birds.
Friday was the end of week two of the hearing by an EPA board of inquiry to decide whether King Salmon should be permitted to build its farms and what conditions should apply. The hearing, at the Civic Theatre in Blenheim, resumes today and is expected to continue for another eight weeks.
Mr Sagar said king shag breeding sites were at least 1km away from proposed fish farms so were unlikely to be affected. The company proposed a 100 metre buffer zone around roosting sites at Papatua in Port Gore and Waitata in Pelorus Sound, where no salmon-farming activities could happen.
Warwick Heal, the lawyer for Sustain Our Sounds which opposes the King Salmon application, asked Mr Sagar whether the loss of 200 metres of king shag feeding beds if the farms were built could cause birds to die. Also, did he agree that nitrogen pollution from salmon farms could boost algal blooms which would make water cloudy and reduce king shags' ability to look for food.
Prompted by board commissioner Helen Beaumont, Mr Sagar admitted risk depended on the percentage of habitat lost. Anything under 5 per cent should not threaten the birds' survival.
Ms Beaumont pointed to evidence from King Salmon expert Ben Knight saying fish farm pollution could cause phytoplankton to increase with a loss of water clarity. Mr Sagar agreed if this happened king shags might lose more habitat but there was no evidence this would affect their hunting ability.
- The Marlborough Express