Marine farming wins enthusiasm

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 05/11/2012

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Partnership between marine farmers, local and central government is the way the aquaculture industry can develop its enormous potential.

This was the consensus at a mayoral forum held as part of the two-day New Zealand Aquaculture Conference at Nelson's Rutherford Hotel last week attended by 300 delegates.

The conference theme was sustainable growth, and the three mayors and one chief executive from aquaculture areas all declared their enthusiasm for more marine farming.

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman - whose council opposed New Zealand King Salmon's application to add new farms in areas prohibited by the council's management plan - said it was "business as usual" in the Marlborough Sounds.

His council had been a pioneer in marine resource-management planning, aiming to "assist the industry to flourish while protecting the very attributes which make the waters of the Sounds ideal for marine farming".

There were 576 marine farming sites in Marlborough and around 24,000 hectares set aside for coastal permits to establish marine farms. The council was currently processing new applications and "a heap" of resource consent renewals.

Mr Sowman said there was "a high level of misunderstanding" about the council's stance on the King Salmon application. It had what it believed to be a properly consulted plan, robust and flexible enough to enable orderly aquaculture growth.

"The issue is that King Salmon wants to create salmon farms in areas that were prohibited under the plan."

He attacked the Environmental Protection Authority process in which King Salmon's application was heard by a board of inquiry.

"The EPA [Environmental Protection Authority] is restricted to an administrative function, there's no guidance being offered on the process; I don't believe there's any strategic direction, and it's worked, I believe, like an Environment Court on steroids.

"It's created an adversarial situation; it's damaged relationships between the Marlborough Sounds community."

The process had been "costly and cumbersome" and the industry was "very unsettled".

"Public relations have got in the way of good planning, consultation and negotiation processes. I also suspect, and I hear, that it's been damaging to New Zealand's aquaculture brand in some overseas markets."

He was optimistic about aquaculture's future but felt the time was right to examine a new coastal commission to "provide one integrated management process and streamline what is currently a very complicated process".

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said aquaculture was the industry likely to get the most significant regional growth.

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He said a farming group was very active in addressing land-based contamination, but the council had not got to the bottom of the problem. It was determined to do that "because we can't have those contaminant discharges undermining marine farming".

Mr Kempthorne said there were "huge challenges" in the existing legal and regulatory framework.

"The whole legal process just shuts everything down and means that development that should be happening, can't happen."

The Tasman District Council was working with the industry on the development of Port Tarakohe and would be happy to work on other aquaculture issues in the same co-operative way, "but it does mean that industry players need to want that".

This theme was picked up in question time by Federation of Commercial Fishermen chairman Doug Saunders-Loder, of Motueka, who said more aquaculture was "a no-brainer" and could come at a cost to existing marine users.

"As an industry, a global seafood industry, we have caused ourselves so much grief and invested so much money in fighting each other when we could have effectively decided to sit around the table and work collaboratively."

Opotiki Mayor John Forbes said 4000ha of water space had been consented for marine farming and trials were underway 6 kilometres offshore.

Thames Coromandel District Council chief executive David Hammond also said there was tremendous potential for aquaculture growth in his region, where recreational use of water space was given high priority.

Aquaculture should become more of a community and environmental partner, Mr Hammond said.

"As the industry grows, so, too, does its visibility and its impact.

"The industry needs to be vigilant in its own management of its effects. Don't leave that role to the regulators - that's not the best outcome."

In environmental protection matters the industry needed to be seen as "an initiator, not an unwilling partner", Mr Hammond said.

The conference had a message for the councils, too.

With much background discussion about paying for coastal infrastructure development, and the spectre of occupation charges for water space, Aquaculture New Zealand chairman Peter Vitasovich said the industry didn't want a free ride. "We'll pay our way - there's no doubt about that."

WHAT THEY SAY

It's been the local bodies like the Marlborough District Council and the industry, rather than government agencies, which have taken the lead in aquaculture development in New Zealand. It's always been a partnership and I don't want that to change – Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman.

We need to be working better together, that is Government, local government and industry, so that we're actually able to . . . get good outcomes – Tasman District Council Mayor Richard Kempthorne. The future of human civilisation lies with better and smarter farming practices, and I think the greatest potential of this lies in farming the sea – Opotiki District Council Mayor John Forbes.

Let's all get on the train and enjoy the benefits of economic development – Federation of Commercial Fishermen chairman Doug Saunders-Loder.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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