'Yes' to salmon farms

Decision prompts regret and anger

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 21/12/2012
Salmon farm
BILL MOORE/Fairfax NZ

MORE TO COME: New Zealand King Salmon Clay Point salmon farm in the Marlborough Sounds.

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A bob-each-way board of inquiry decision on New Zealand King Salmon's expansion plans has disappointed both the company and its opponents.

King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne says the partial approval could generate 170 jobs but New Zealand has missed a great opportunity, while the Green Party says the decision has ignored the public and set a worrying precedent. The environmental group set up to fight the application, Sustain our Sounds, says it is "immensely disappointed".

In a draft report and decision yesterday the Environmental Protection Authority's board of inquiry has approved four new salmon farms for the Marlborough Sounds. The company wanted to add nine to its existing five.

The board has ruled:

- Farms at Papatua (Port Gore), Ngamahau (Tory Channel), Waitata and Richmond (Waitata Reach, Pelorus Sound) are allowed.

- Farms at Kaitapeha (Queen Charlotte Sound) and Ruaomoko (Queen Charlotte Sound), Kaitira and Tapipi (Waitata Reach) are declined.

- The White Horse Rock farm, also in the Waitata Reach but within an existing aquaculture zone, is declined.

Resource consents for the four sites have been granted for a 35-year term, with conditions.

Mr Rosewarne said the draft decision was a missed opportunity for the company, Marlborough, Nelson and New Zealand.

But it would allow the company to eventually double production and if King Salmon went ahead with the four farms there would still be about 100 new jobs in Nelson and 70 in Marlborough, compared with 370 if all nine farms had been permitted.

He said commerce and conservation could live together and the Sounds could easily support the nine farms.

"But too often in New Zealand commerce is pitted against conservation in an adversarial way that prevents regions achieving benefits from their natural advantages."

The company would carefully review the draft.

"New Zealand depends on sustainable primary production to support a standard of living and a way of life we all enjoy," Mr Rosewarne said.

"Australia has recently granted almost 200 per cent more space for salmon farming than we have received at about one-fifth of our cost. How does New Zealand industry compete with these realities?"

He hoped the first of the new farms would be producing fish by March 2015, and was delighted that Ngamahau in Tory Channel got the go-ahead as it was the pick of the sites.

"A certain amount of scale is important, and that's why we pitched it at nine farms. We're talking about 12 surface hectares - it's a lot of jobs, it's a lot of value, but it's a relatively small amount of space."

Green Party fisheries spokesman Steffan Browning said the decision showed that plan development and Environment Court case law "mean nothing to the Government or the board of inquiry".

"New Zealanders don't want companies over-ruling their community plans and polluting their pristine, recreational water space. For Kiwis who live by the coast or look forward to visiting their favourite coastal places over summer, this outcome is a nightmare," Mr Browning said.

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It was obvious the Sounds had reached capacity for salmon farming but the company had been able to bulldoze its way into public water space, he said.

"This decision will set a precedent allowing companies to apply to build marine farms anywhere on New Zealand's coastline," he said.

Sustain our Sounds (SOS) chairman Danny Boulton said pollution from the additional farms would take the environment "another step closer to the unknown edge, exploiting the ecosystem to a level that is unsustainable".

The Sounds were "a biodiversity hotspot", frequented by five dolphin species and home to one of the world's rarest seabirds, the king shag.

Many members of the Sounds community had raised and defended their concerns.

"This decision flies in the face of that public opinion," Mr Boulton said.

"Serenity is further traded for the incessant noise of generators and visual beauty compromised by obtrusive constructions. This salmon expansion may produce greater profit margins for overseas shareholders but has little concern for the environment, recreational user, mussel farmer and community."

The ability of the Sounds to adequately assimilate a significant increase in nutrients was unknown with unforeseen risks, Mr Boulton said, and SOS had presented robust scientific evidence to back its concerns.

"The board, selected by the Government, made a political decision based on insufficient information in favour of big business and short-term gain and as such has compromised opportunities for future generations," he said.

Forest and Bird said the that five farms were turned down was a victory in one sense, but the four that had been approved would ruin a significant area of the Sounds. It was particularly concerned that a farm was approved for the wilderness of Port Gore.

For more information, click on 'Draft report and decision' at http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/king-salmon.

KEY POINTS

- Four of the nine farms applied for by NZ King Salmon to go ahead.

- Importance of Queen Charlotte Sound as a recreational area underlined.

- People and communities to gain economic and social benefits from the farms being built.

- Fish farms require water of the appropriate temperature, depth and current.

- Draft consent conditions require King Salmon to monitor water quality for up to two years before stocking farms, depending on the site.

- No ecologically significant sites found beneath or close to farms approved and far-field effects are unlikely.

- Negative impacts acknowledged include a compromise of Maori values around water quality, traditional food gathering and traditional waka routes.

- Threatened king shags in the Waitata Reach of Pelorus Sound could be the "canary in the coalmine".

- The Nelson Mail

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