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EBCS Successfully Questions Legality Of Mussel Farm Renewals

East Bay Conservation Society (EBCS) has successfully argued that mussel farms currently located partly outside the areas specified in their consents cannot take advantage of RMA provisions allowing for an easy roll-over of their operations for a further 20 years.

In a decision dated 11 May, following a hearing concluded just before the Covid-19 lockdown, Clearwater Mussels asked for a 20 year renewal of their 5.25 hectare marine farm in East Bay - on the basis they were seeking to occupy the same space as their consent shows on paper. However, Commissioner Sharon McGarry noted Clearwater’s own evidence that the farm had always being located beyond its consented space, and agreed with EBCS this meant a simple rollover renewal of the consented space was not possible.

Commissioner McGarry ruled that “the grandfathering provision providing protection for marine farms that existed prior to 1996 as a controlled activity under the operative MSRMP is strictly limited to existing marine farm sites that comply with the foundation marine farm licence or deemed coastal permit which authorises the existing marine farm activities”.

Mark Denize, Resident of East Bay and Chair of EBCS said, “This decision corrects a 20 year roughshod dismissal of local community interests. It is wonderful to have some of our concerns listened to”. EBCS claimed that it was physically impossible for the farm to be implemented in accordance with either the previous or proposed layout plan. The MDC Officer commented that out of position location is common with many existing farms in the Sounds as anchors and warps are often located outside the consented boundary.

As is well known, marine farming in the Sounds has a chequered history. Like many other farms, this one was originally established under the Marine Farming Act 1971. It was granted a Deemed Coastal Permit and had “off-site validation” after MDC surveyed all these marine farms in 2006. Commissioner McGarry rejected Clearwater’s argument that it could not help that the farm was partly out of position, noting GPS was available when the farm location was adjusted in 2006.

The EBCS submission also commented on the huge investment in scientific knowledge and sustainable management of aquaculture over the last 20 years throughout New Zealand, now being reflected in national and local Government policy and plans. In particular, EBCS noted the ongoing permanent damage to the shore and benthic environment from the large quantity of plastic rope debris dropped from farms in East Bay. Sounds communities have been actively involved in development of the aquaculture management chapter for the new Marlborough Environment Plan, but for reasons that remain unclear this aspect is not included in the newly notified MEP.

EBCS had hoped that marine farmers and MDC would use the best available science and planning information when considering whether to renew under the new MEP. Instead, this 30 year old farm was considered for renewal under the 20 year old Marlborough Sound Resource Management Plan, with the possibility of consent for a further 20 years.

This decision is at least a wake-up call that renewal applications for out of position marine farms should properly disclose the physical location of their farms, including anchor blocks, in relation to their consented boundaries.

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