Little space for new mussel farms

PENNY WARDLE
Last updated 14:54 23/05/2013

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There is little room for mussel farms to expand in the Marlborough Sounds, one industry insider says.

During a Marlborough District Council hearing this week, when two aquaculture companies applied for new space, Bill Scholefield, of Mt Zion Trust, which farms livestock and mussels in Beatrix Bay, predicted a rush of applications to expand mussel farms seaward.

But Marine Farming Association executive officer Graeme Coates said council plans left no room for expansion in the Sounds.

All available space was taken up and applications to the council were for minor infilling between farms, amalgamations and permit renewals. The industry was consolidating, "steady as she goes", he said.

A lot of rationalisation was going on as big companies merged and some small farmers sold up.

"This is a traditional sign of a maturing industry."

Council rules did not allow marine farms to extend beyond 200m from shore, Mr Coates said. Expanding further seaward required a resource consent and it seemed the council might accept boundaries being shifted out to 300m.

Mr Scholefield suggested the industry look to expand in the open sea. Bays were fully stocked, so mussels took longer to reach maturity as they competed for nutrients, he said. Mr Coates pointed to fluctuating climate as the main reason for the slow growth.

Mr Coates said in two to 10 years' time mussel farms might be built in the open sea, but technology to do this was a "work in progress".

Pilot sites around the country included 450ha off d'Urville Island where the Environment Court last month consented the Wakatu Incorporation to progressively install 200 mussel lines over 15 years while monitoring environmental effects.

Also, companies were managing much larger areas than in the pioneering past, so could no longer harvest crops as frequently.

He accepted the possibility mussels might be overstocked at some sites and would like the industry to move towards bay-by-bay management, in tune with local conditions.

Mr Coates warned of a challenge ahead for the industry and council when 200 to 300 licences would expire on December 31 2024, a date set when historical licences were transformed to resource consents in 2004.

Ron Sutherland, of Blenheim business Property and Land Management Services, said since the middle of last year two large mussel companies and "mum and dad owners" had asked his company to identify potential new space.

This resulted in about 16 applications for extensions ranging from 1ha to 4ha. All were publicly notified, but only some attracted submissions, triggering public hearings.

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In October 2011, the Government passed the Aquaculture Reform Amendment Act, easing the way for aquaculture expansion.

- The Marlborough Express

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