Sounds fish farms can go ahead

PENNY WARDLE
Last updated 18:16 09/08/2013

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The High Court has thrown out appeals to the decision to grant New Zealand King Salmon consent to develop four new fish farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

High Court judge Robert Dobson said the Environmental Protection Authority panel which granted King Salmon consents for four of nine farms applied correctly interpreted the law.

In a decision released on Thursday, he rejected appeals by residents’ group Sustain Our Sounds and the Environmental Defence Society, three months after the hearing in Blenheim.  

Sustain Our Sounds chairman Danny Boulton and society chairman Gary Taylor are taking legal advice on whether to take an appeal to the Supreme Court, which must be done within 20 working days of the decision being released. 

New Zealand King Salmon chief executive, Grant Rosewarne, said ‘‘we’re very excited and eager to get on with the business of producing the world’s best salmon".  

Four new farms would create about 200 new jobs in the top of the South Island.  Benefits would flow through in wages and additional work for suppliers including water taxis, engineering firms, transport companies and shops.

Mr Boulton said the decision meant relying on elaborate resource consent conditions to protect the environment.

‘‘The public needs to be well aware this result is based on a point of law and does not tick the box for ecological and environmental effects.’’

Sustain Our Sounds would consider working with the Marlborough District Council to introduce occupancy charges, Mr Boulton said.  Otherwise, King Salmon would continue to profit from the Sounds while the public carried the cost of pollution and cleaning up. 

The council must employ the staff and resources to police consent conditions, he said.

‘‘We would much prefer a collaborative approach to ensure the future of the Sounds (to) the adversarial and expensive court process,” Mr Boulton said.

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Mr Taylor believed the society had a ‘‘slam dunk’’ argument that Papatua in Port Gore was not an appropriate place to build an industrial style fish farm.  The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement required that outstanding coastal landscapes be protected from economic use which would have adverse environmental effects.

Judge Dobson’s precedent-setting interpretation of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement could place outstanding coastal landscapes at risk, he said.  However, this was his personal opinion and the society would seek legal advice and confirmation from a Queen’s Counsel before making an appeal.

Judge Dobson agreed that outstanding landscapes did require a higher bar when balancing economic advantages with environmental impacts.  However, such designations did not provide absolute protection.  

He rejected Sustain Our Sounds’ argument that the board made a legal error in approving plan changes which created zones where farms could be built at the same time as setting conditions of consent.  The approach was logical, he said. 

The board was legally correct in dealing with scientific uncertainty about farm results by setting an adaptive management regime, Judge Dobson said.  King Salmon could ramp up production only if monitoring confirmed there were no unacceptable environmental effects.

The Environmental Protection Authority board of inquiry granted permission for King Salmon to build four of nine farms applied for in February this year, after a 37-day hearing in Blenheim, the Waikawa marae and the Portage Resort Hotel in the Marlborough Sounds. 

- The Marlborough Express

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