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Meridian’s Assurances Over Project Aqua Dubious

Meridian’s Assurances Over Project Aqua/Waitaki River Fisheries Dubious And Unsupported

Fish & Game New Zealand says it is highly skeptical about claims by Meridian Energy in a recent media release of theirs which says: “Trout and Salmon Numbers should be able to be maintained under Project Aqua”.

“They say they are giving these assurances because of findings of seven independent reports commissioned by Meridian Energy as part of its consent applications. But we have meticulously reviewed those same reports and we fail to see those assurances” says Jay Graybill, Fish & Game spokesperson.

“If anything the reports highlight the uncertainty of maintaining the fisheries and this is reflected in Meridian’s media release. We note that the media release uses the word ‘should’ four times! This is hardly a term of assurance. It uses the word ‘possibly’ two times, and throws in a ‘may’ and a ‘might’ on its way to concluding on two occasions the ‘uncertainty of such predictions.’”

“The Waitaki River is unique in New Zealand as it has a nationally important salmon fishery as well as having excellent fisheries for brown and rainbow trout. This is Fish & Game’s bottom line and we will not accept a power company destroying this national asset which belongs to all New Zealanders,” says Jay Graybill.

The key issues Fish & Game has identified are:

Will the reduced flows, with two-thirds of the water diverted to a power canal, be adequate to maintain salmon spawning and salmon angling? Will the rainbow trout fishery survive in a much reduced river with stable flows? Will the water quality in a reduced flow river be suitable for fish life or even human contact?

“The consultants’ reports base their predictions about the adequacy of spawning on a number of assumptions, yet they were unwilling to state with certainty that these assumptions will be met. The consultants’ reports identify that 150 m3/sec flow is needed for salmon angling yet Meridian’s application provides for a flow of 140 m3/sec and then only for one month! That’s a clear erosion of angling opportunity and quality says,” Jay Graybill.

“Meridian says under Project Aqua there will be ‘improved flow stability’ in the river. They also say in their media release that the rainbow trout population ‘is predicted to be unaffected’, yet studies show that brown trout ‘out-compete” rainbow trout under stable flow conditions. An example, in the same catchment, where this is happening is the Tekapo River.”

“Meridian claims that the trout spawning in the Waitaki’s tributaries will be unaffected. But recent studies by NIWA show that the water quality in some of the Waitaki’s tributaries is poor and in some cases poses a threat to human health. Again there is uncertainty about the resulting water quality of a much smaller Waitaki River with two-thirds of its flow diverted to a power canal,” says Jay Graybill.

“Meridian is giving assurances that the trout and salmon numbers ‘should’ be able to be maintained under Project Aqua. These are assurances they simply can’t give, the consultants’ reports do not support, and even their media release is less than convincing,” says Jay Graybill. “And it doesn’t address angling at all. If Project Aqua goes ahead with these uncertainties, what happens if they get it wrong? Will they take the Project out? No! They will be looking for the “technological fix” such as a rainbow trout hatchery.”

“Such a fix will erode the ‘wild’ gene pool and won’t be acceptable to anglers. Predictions based on uncertainty pose too great a threat to the Waitaki’s unique fisheries. Unless it can be shown that the unique Waitaki fisheries and angling opportunity will be maintained or enhanced, Fish & Game will remain opposed to Project Aqua.”

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