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Growing aquaculture through research

Wednesday, 24 April 2002

Hon Pete Hodgson Speech Notes

[Address delivered approx. 12.30pm at opening of National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) Bream Bay Aquaculture Park, Ruakaka, Whangarei]

Today we open this exciting new aquaculture production, research and development facility.

I will leave it to others to explain the research and the plans for rearing kingfish or seahorses or molluscs or snapper — or, with a bit of luck and a fair wind, maybe even rock lobsters in a few years.

I will leave it to others to talk about the business plan for this enterprise, the emerging partnerships with the private sector including iwi, the size of the massive intake installed for very different purposes, or the water quality control systems.

Instead I want to talk about NIWA and about aquaculture and the relationship between them.

NIWA is one of the nine Crown Research Institutes and one of three with a primary focus on the environment. NIWA is jam packed with high quality scientists. Amongst NIWA staff are scientists who are the best in the world in their fields.

Last weekend for example, Martin Manning was elected deputy chair of an international group on the science of climate change in Geneva. Many, many NIWA scientists are rolling back the frontiers of knowledge on climate change and its many ramifications. They examine the upper atmosphere, the lower atmosphere, the oceans, the Antarctic and the terrestial environment. In this area of work NIWA scientists are part of a global effort and they are highly respected around the world. As Minister responsible for the Government’s response to climate change, I lean on their expertise a lot.

But NIWA scientists also spend a lot of time getting wet. They do most of the fisheries research in this country and it is on the basis of their science that I, as Minister of Fisheries, take decisions on whether to increase or decrease the total allowable catch for each species in each region. NIWA is involved in marine ecology, marine biosecurity, marine biodiversity, marine this and marine that.

They are also involved in aquaculture.

Until now their aquaculture work has been done mostly at Greta Point and Mahanga Bay in Wellington. There they research species like paua or crayfish or seahorses.

On Kawau Island in conjunction with some pretty determined private sector folk, they have been learning about snapper and kingfish. They and others have been making often startling progress.

Our understanding of kingfish for example has rocketed away, from pretty much a standing start. On the other hand, growing crayfish in captivity has proved a bit of an adventure. People have been trying to do it for about a hundred years, without much success. I’ve had a go myself. They are difficult critters. But progress by NIWA, in conjunction with Australian scientists, looks promising.

For twenty years or more, politicians have been giving speeches about the bright future of aquaculture. I am about to do so again. The truth is that in those twenty years, aquaculture has had good growth, but not spectacular growth. It is still less than 1% of our economy. It is still less than half the size of our horticulture industry. It is still mostly about mussels, with some salmon or oysters or paua thrown in.

But it is about to grow rapidly indeed. The markets are strong. The science is arriving. The learning by doing over the past twenty years has seen a lot of knowledge and a lot of technology reach fruition.

Seeing the mussel harvesting facilities, in Marlborough for example, is like seeing some giant combine harvester at work, afloat. Similarly, New Zealand scientists can now breed mussels like we breed sheep or kiwifruit. The breeding gains are likely to be startling.

Aquaculture is highly productive. A mussel farm or oyster farm will produce a lot more per hectare than a dairy farm or a forest. The aquaculturist puts the animals on racks or ropes and the nutrients just come wafting on by.

In the scallop fishery in Nelson, and maybe soon in Northland, we are learning to enhance the wild stock, so that the difference between aquaculture and wild fisheries is becoming blurred. On the other hand, some high value aquaculture such as cocktail paua is land based.

New Zealand’s wild fish stocks are in generally good shape. Our quota management system has seen to that. But around the world, fisheries are in trouble. Europe is an example. Some say that the collapse of the magnificent cod fishery on the Grand Banks off the east coast of North America may be permanent.

Yet the world consumption of fish is rising —- and it is rising in the high value markets, where the money is. High value aquaculture will therefore fill the gap and it is in facilities such as this that New Zealand will get the edge on other markets.

In short, the future of the fishing industry in New Zealand will involve more and more aquaculture, underpinned by more and more science.

If the future for aquaculture is so rosy, why is it that the Government has just put a moratorium on further applications? Well, the answer is distressingly straight forward. Our planning law for aquaculture is a mess. Anyone can apply anywhere to do anything. If they are declined, they or anyone else can apply again.

Because it is first in, best dressed, the industry is almost obliged to apply for more space than they currently need. Because applications have been popping up right, left and centre, startled or distressed members of the public have been opposing the applications right, left and centre. The end result is delays, disappointment and court cases. The legal costs have become very high and everyone is surrounded by uncertainty.

A moratorium stems the tide while new planning law is put in place. You will be aware that we shifted the line in the sand so that many more existing applications can be heard and decided on.

Meanwhile we must grab the breathing space and revise the coastal planning of the nation. The industry must have certainty about where aquaculture can take place and the concerned public must have certainty about where it cannot. Regional councils and central government must now work closely and without delay to get this planning done, and done with a proper consultative process.

This is planning that should have been done about five years ago, but no one thought to change the law. In short it has been a public policy failure and it needs to be fixed.

For those who view aquaculture as a threat to the environment, let me make two points in response. The first is that aquaculture takes pressure off our wild fishery just like pinus radiata took pressure off our native forests seventy years ago.

The second is that aquaculture itself demands the highest environmental standards, as oyster farmers in the Bay of Islands can attest. High water quality and high hygiene standards are prerequisites for a successful industry.

I seem to have spent most of my life so far trying to bring environmental and economic interests together so that it is hard to spot the daylight between the two. High quality aquaculture does just that.

On that note, it is my pleasure to declare the NIWA Bream Bay Aquaculture Park open.

Ends

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