New Zealand King Salmon and opponents of the company developing more fish farms in the Marlborough Sounds spent 2012 battling the benefits and risks of the expansion proposal.
This year the company and community will start working on how to make headway from the decision on the application, delivered a few days before Christmas. The Environmental Protection Authority board of inquiry plans to give the company consent for four of the nine farms it applied for, and has set a raft of conditions.
The draft decision says King Salmon's failure to assess environmental effects was "unexpected" in a project of this magnitude and importance. It notes that the application lacked substantial data on existing water quality in the Sounds, the impact existing salmon farms are having and the likely effects of the proposed farms.
The board remains uncertain about whether the Sounds environment is able to absorb fish farm waste. As a result it requires King Salmon to do at least a year of monitoring to help fill the information gap before it can start stocking its farms, and then only if its monitoring and its learn-by-doing management system are more robust than set out in the application.
King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne has said tougher consent conditions might make it impractical to operate the farms. That's his call. The board of inquiry has set the guidelines to reflect the concerns raised by 800 people and organisations who made submissions against the proposal, and those should not be stomped on for commercial gain.
The Marlborough Sounds is public space, which the company is using at no charge. That privilege should come with the responsibility of keeping the public fully informed on what is happening in the space - open, honest, no-frills information that acknowledges the public right to know and the high level of public interest in what is happening.
After Mr Rosewarne's assurances about the company's standard of operations, he should have nothing to hide.
The board has also required King Salmon to write a staff recruitment and training plan, maximising employment opportunities for Marlborough people from the salmon farm development. People in the region are keen to see whether the company backs up its promises of jobs and wider economic benefits.
- The Marlborough Express