Environmentalist stopped in tracks bemoaning lack of democracy in salmon farm plan

A New Zealand King Salmon farm in the Marlborough Sounds.
ELENA MCPHEE/FAIRFAX NZ

A New Zealand King Salmon farm in the Marlborough Sounds.

An environmentalist against shifting salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds has been given a free lesson in environment law: it's not democratic.

Rarangi woman Bev Doole was hoping to throw a spanner in the works of the farm relocation plan by claiming democratic processes were not being followed. 

She objected to the salmon farms on behalf of the Marlborough Environment Centre, on the grounds they took power away from the local community and bypassed the Environment Court. 

Marlborough Environment Centre representative Bev Doole at Rarangi Beach. (File photo)
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Marlborough Environment Centre representative Bev Doole at Rarangi Beach. (File photo)

But former Environment Court judge Peter Skelton, leading the hearings, quickly stopped Doole in her tracks.

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"Is the Environment Court a democratic process?" Skelton said. 

Salmon farm hearings relocation panel chairman Peter Skelton.
HELEN TATHAM/FAIRFAX NZ

Salmon farm hearings relocation panel chairman Peter Skelton.

"It never was. The Environment Court was not a democratic process." 

The words were also not in the legislation used to create the salmon farms and overrule the council's plan. 

"You don't find 'democratic process' referred to in the Resource Management Act at all, do you?" 

The hearings on the potential relocation of up to six New Zealand King Salmon farms to higher-flow sites in the Marlborough Sounds, where more fish can be farmed, would continue next week.

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Doole described Skelton's questioning as "pretty gruelling" and said although he was right, she thought the Environment Court was still a better way to make decisions. 

"We can feel that we've had a fair go," she said. "The Environment Court has judges who make decisions based on law, independent of the political wishes of the current government.

The process to push through the farms was politically driven for economic growth, Doole said.

"Even though the panel I spoke to is appointed to make an independent recommendation to the minister on the proposal, the minister still has the power to ignore them and forge ahead with putting new salmon farms into the Sounds." 

The relocation had some support in the wider community but also prompted opposition from environmental groups, residents and iwi. 

If the plan went ahead it would involve the Primary Industries Minister recommending regulations to override the Marlborough District Council's aquaculture rules. 

Doole told the panel in the past funding had been available to community groups to make the legal battle more equal. 

The proposal was comparable to farmers being rewarded for polluting the environment with a larger herd of cattle, she said.

"There are clear lessons from the dairy industry." 

Skelton pointed out that although the minister could get the process going, creating the regulations was more complicated than objectors seemed to think. 

"He can start it, yes, but there are certainly requirements contained in [the RMA]." 

About 25 members of the public turned up to hear Doole read the Marlborough Environment Centre submission on Tuesday.

The Environment Centre submission covered the proposal being a poor use of public money, a lack of considerations of farming alternatives, the need for a precautionary approach, increased stocking and nitrogen discharge from the fish farms, and the threat to the king shag population. 

In her submission, Doole suggested if King Salmon did not create the jobs they said they would, the company should make an annual payment of $100,000 to environmental groups protect and restore the Marlborough Sounds. 

She also proposed King Salmon paid the council for the monitoring, modelling and enforcing the farm's compliance, and for any breaches of environmental guidelines. 

 - The Marlborough Express

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