Editorial: King Salmon verdict a fair compromise

When both parties to a dispute are disappointed with the ruling, a reasonable assumption is that the arbitrator got things about right.

That's not always the case, of course. If one side goes into battle with unreasonable expectations and the other plays it straight, then an attempt at compromise might be thrown out of kilter.

However, the Environmental Protection Authority's decision to allow four new salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds seems reasonable - though it is early days yet.

The wordy and complex decision is just out and only a draft, with more submissions and comments to be made and a final ruling due in the new year.

Naturally, NZ King Salmon is disappointed. It sought nine new farms and got four. One of the failed applications was for a site adjacent to an existing farm and appropriately zoned, and yet it was rejected.

Chief executive Grant Rosewarne sees it as a missed opportunity for Nelson, Marlborough and the rest of New Zealand. He says the company will need to consider consent conditions attached to the four approved farm sites, and says the scaled down ruling will mean some 200 fewer jobs for the region.

Just as predictably, the Green Party and other opponents are unhappy too. Fisheries spokesman Steffan Browning points out that the authority has ignored decades of consultation that went into producing the Marlborough District Council's resource management plan for the Sounds.

He calls the decision a worrying precedent, especially given the four approved farms are all located in prohibited zones under the district council's Sounds management plan. He adds that for those who live or holiday near the coast, the decision will be viewed as a disaster which can only add a further black mark to the country's clean green reputation.

The Marlborough District Council also will look closely at the ruling. A key thrust of its management plan was to separate activity in the Sounds, with one area for industry, another for recreation.

The authority appears to have ignored that philosophy with its ruling, and the council may well feel its management plan has been severely compromised as a result.

The EPA Board of Inquiry approach is an initiative of the Key government and in particular the former environment minister Nick Smith. It was viewed as an attempt to streamline the resource consent process for major developments while still allowing a thorough and robust hearing of the issues.

Despite the decision drawing strong criticism from both sides, it does allow NZ King Salmon to double production from its current annual 7500 metric tonnes assuming the associated consent conditions are achievable. That is the sort of growth many companies would be delighted to anticipate.

Mr Rosewarne is always keen to promote his company as a success story for New Zealand, and it is. The ruling gives the company an opportunity to deliver on its often-stated belief that commerce and conservation can live together in the Sounds. Achieve that, and a future hearing might be much less protracted and costly.

The Nelson Mail