Legal war guts aquaculture plan
The $10 million struggle faced by New Zealand King Salmon for more water space has probably killed the future of finfish farming on New Zealand's coastline, Marine Farming Association executive director Graeme Coates says.
The costly and drawn-out application had also destroyed the aquaculture industry's goal of $1 billion in exports by 2025, Mr Coates said at the Aquaculture NZ conference in Nelson's Rutherford Hotel.
"What King Salmon has gone through would put anyone else off."
The Nelson-based salmon exporter has fought a protracted battle that it says has cost it more than $10m, meeting determined opposition from environmental and recreational groups each step of the way.
It applied for nine new farming sites and, after a lengthy hearing last year, in February was granted four by an Environmental Protection Authority board of inquiry. That decision was upheld by the High Court in July.
Last week the application's opponents were granted leave for a Supreme Court appeal, set down for November 19-21.
Mr Coates's comments came during a panel discussion on regulation for growth, in which he also said that marine farming only flourished in countries with a dictatorship or one-party government.
"Eighty per cent of the consent hearings these days are heard by commissioners, rather than by council hearing committees, because the councillors just don't understand the stuff."
Applicants got much better results from commissioners than councillors, he said.
King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne had asked the panel what could be done about "extreme and minority views getting a disproportionate say".
The Marlborough District Council might have been led to believe there was very little support for King Salmon's expansion, yet an independent survey the company commissioned had shown it was favoured by a majority of four to one.
It was also possible for people who made submissions to stand up at a hearing and say anything they wanted to, "which can destroy a company's reputation".
"That is one example of a pretty bad process, I would say, which just gives voice to minority views."
Australia National Aquaculture Council chairman Pheroze Jungalwalla said that the right of the public to have a say could not be disputed. But very often the public was strongly influenced by activists "whose job it is to create that doom and gloom".
He welcomed fresh Australian government moves towards making it possible to sue activists who did not tell the public the truth, he said.
Delegates were later addressed by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, who said the Government was working towards trying to ease the frustrations the aquaculture industry experienced with the Resource Management Act and regional plans.
Aquaculture needed reliable investment, more nationally consistent management and reasonable operating costs, and more opportunities for new space.
The ministry was reviewing land-based aquaculture opportunities and working with Aquaculture NZ on a joint project to build community support and trust.
"I know there will be some learnings from the King Salmon application - we all know that public opinion can stifle growth in your industry, that's why the theme of your conference is very important, ‘Good for you, good for New Zealand'," Mr Guy said.
His goals for the next 12 months were to improve the RMA coastal planning and unlock aquaculture potential, build on the industry's social licence to operate in public space, deliver on the Maori aquaculture settlement, review land-based aquaculture regimes, and build biosecurity capability. "Biosecurity is my No 1 priority."
Mr Guy also made presentations to three aquaculture pioneers who each have a long record of service and leadership in the industry: Peter Vitasovich (mussels), Mark Gillard (salmon) and Callum McCallum (oysters).
Speaking to the Nelson Mail after the conference, Mr Coates said it would be a brave person who would try to go through a consenting process for a fish farm in the next five years.
Given that much of the industry's growth target had been planned to come from finfish farming, it would make the $1 billion by 2025 very difficult to achieve "unless somehow there's confidence put back into the process".
King Salmon's experience had put prospective investors off.
"Who would risk putting up that sort of money without even knowing whether you're going to get it?"
Mr Coates said there was a mismatch between what the industry aspired to, what the Government wanted as policy and what was being delivered through the Resource Management Act.
"That's the issue."
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