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Scene Set For Marine Farming Gold Rush

November 15, 2001 - Auckland

Kaipara Decision Sets Scene For Marine Farming Gold Rush

Contact: Sarah Gibbs, Northern Field Officer, Tel. (09) 303-3079.

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society is dismayed with the decision by Auckland Regional Council to allow a 30 hectare mussel farm off South Kaipara Head.

The decision, made by ARC councillors Patricia Thorp, Philip Sherry and Brian Smith, went against recommendations made by ARC staff. The officers' report recommended the application be declined due to the impacts it would have on the natural character of the area and the precedent it would set in terms of other marine farm applications for the area.

"The Kaipara is an outstanding habitat for birdlife and supports around 20,000 migratory wading birds. Too little is known about marine farming's impacts on their habitat for such a large farm to have been approved in such a sensitive and important location," Forest and Bird's Northern Field Officer, Sarah Gibbs said.

"A grid of large plastic buoys in this otherwise unmodified marine area will compromise the wild unspoiled character and recreational values of the coast."

Forest and Bird is concerned that the decision does not recognise the current gold rush for marine space for marine farming nor the need for a precautionary approach.

"There have been applications for in excess of 5,000 hectares within the Firth of Thames in the last 12 months. The decision to allow for a mussel farm within the Kaipara Harbour could lead to this level of applications in the Kaipara as well," Ms Gibbs said.

"The current rapid and poorly planned expansion of marine farming is unsustainable and based on speculation, not science. The only research on environmental effects has been carried out on very small farms, only a few hectares in size. We simply don't know what the long term effects of large farms and a rapid expansion of aquaculture are going to be," said Ms Gibbs.

Forest and Bird is calling for a moratorium on all new marine farming resource consent applications to allow appropriate provisions within Regional Coastal Plans to be developed.

"The current aquaculture situation is nothing more than a bun fight between speculators. Granting the Kaipara marine farm application has done nothing towards either acknowledging or dealing with this issue," says Ms Gibbs.

ENDS

Background Notes

1. Some recent applications are for large areas (eg, to farm and catch greenshell mussel spat over 4750 ha off Opotiki and over 4000 ha off Maketu in the Bay of Plenty). There is a lack of research into the effects of establishing farms of this size and so far offshore. For example, the major research into phytoplankton (nutrient) depletion has been carried out in Beatrix Bay in Marlborough's Pelorus Sound, where the average farm size is 3 ha. The information gained from this research can not be extrapolated to large farms with any confidence. There is also limited information available on how large farms will affect current and sediment flows.

Large offshore marine farms (some covering more than 4000 ha) are also proposed off the Bay of Plenty coast between Opotoki and Whakatane, in the outer Marlborough Sounds, and in Golden Bay and Tasman Bay.

Other areas around New Zealand with high landscape and ecological values where marine farming is proposed include various sites around Great Barrier Island, the Great Mercury Islands, Akaroa Harbour and around Banks Peninsula, and in Jackson Bay on the South Island's West Coast.

2. Aquaculture can be developed in an orderly way by identifying suitable areas for aquaculture, and zoning these in regional coastal plans. Aquaculture should be prohibited outside these zones.

Councils have generally failed to use such an approach in the current crop of regional plans. The exceptions are Environment Waikato which is using it in a limited way, and in Tasman and Golden Bay, where the Environment Court has directed the use of such a zoning approach in the Tasman regional coastal plan.

3. A moratorium is needed to give regional councils and unitary authorities time to consult the public to determine whether aquaculture is appropriate in their region, and if so, where aquaculture zones are best sited to reduce marine farming's impacts on wildlife, environmental, and landscape values, and recreational users such as boaties and sea kayakers.

A review of aquaculture legislation is currently underway. It has significant implications for coastal management in New Zealand, but risks being pre-empted and undermined by the plethora of new farming applications and operations.

Ends

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