Farm gains 'small and uncertain'

Lawyer Warwick Heal pulled together his case against nine new salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds, in Blenheim on Friday.

Mr Heal weighed up evidence showing small and uncertain gains but certain and significant damage to the environment, if New Zealand King Salmon's application to expand in the Sounds is successful.

His opening submission represented about 1000 members of opposition group Sustain Our Sounds, environmental watchdog group Friends of Nelson Haven and Tasman Bay and the Nelson Underwater Club.

King Salmon was among the most serious polluters of the Sounds, Mr Heal told the Environmental Protection Authority board of inquiry, which is considering the company's application to develop its proposed farms. If the board recommended the plan change and resource consents required, it could become the biggest polluter, he said.

King Salmon focused on the 11-hectare surface area of its farms. However it wanted more than 200ha of the Sounds where aquaculture was prohibited to be rezoned for its farms and an even greater area could be damaged by sedimentation. Mr Heal said the Resource Management Act prohibited contaminants from being released to water if they produced conspicuous oil or grease films, scums or foams, or floatable or suspended materials.

Judge Gordon Whiting told Mr Heal since no-one cross-examined experts on the size of particles released from salmon farms and how conspicuous they were, this made it difficult for the board to ask questions.

"He who asserts must prove," Judge Whiting said.

Mr Heal questioned the independence of evidence provided by King Salmon. "Those of us who participate in resource management cases . . . know full well that evidence can be ‘bought' from experts," he said. This was contrary to the code of practice but happened all the same.

For example, Cawthron scientist Nigel Keeley said King Salmon could not farm to a lesser pollution threshold beneath its farms because this would require cutting fish production when he should have focused on ecological evidence.

Mr Heal said was astonished the board was considering an application which on pollution effects was equivalent to Fonterra double-parking intensive dairy farms on the surface of Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds at double land-based stocking density.

King Salmon proposed gradually increasing feed levels and fish numbers and called this adaptive management, he said. "This is simply an attempt to screw the scrum."

At existing farms, King Salmon had used adaptive management as a licence to pollute to the maximum permissible and beyond, he said.

The board should insist that conditions would require consents to be cancelled if effects were unacceptable or could not be compensated for, he said.

Evidence from King Salmon expert Douglas Fairgray, which several experts had agreed was over-inflated, said the Marlborough economy would benefit by 3 per cent and Nelson by 2 per cent if the company increased production to the maximum planned.

"It constitutes a sad day for this country when [this contribution] to two of the smallest regional economics in the country is considered to be a matter in the national interest," Mr Heal said.

The Marlborough Express