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Proposals For Snapper Farming “Full Of Fish Hooks”

A proposal by Fisheries Minister Shane Jones for the farming of snapper has been described by an outdoor recreation organisation as “injudicious and a fallacy”.

Tony Orman, past chairman of the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations and the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council, said fish farming was no substitute for proper management of the wild sea fishery.

“Besides fish farming to quote the words of a top American fishery hatcheries expert, some time ago, is that fish farming is capital intensive, high risk and only marginally economic,” he said. “The comment was made at the time, relative to trout farming proposals for New Zealand.”

In a recent statement Fisheries minister Shane Jones said a new project to breed ‘super’ snapper, more resistant to disease, that would grow faster and thrive in warm water could help drive more economic growth through aquaculture.

However Tony Orman said snapper farming had been tried in the Pelorus Sound in Marlborough, but it failed and the captive fish, in poor condition, had to be released.

“Likely is the minister isn’t aware of this failed fish farming venture. It was found the snapper did not grow fast enough and suffered in the poor conditions, so within two years they pulled the plug and let the snapper swim away.”

Poor feed conversion

The feed conversion factor for snapper is 2.9, (i.e. for every kilogram of flesh produced, it takes 2.9 kg of food) which is greatly in performance below the 1.2 for Atlantic salmon or the 1.8 for King salmon he said.

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If the food for fish farms is coming from the sea, there is potential problems for the ecosystem’s food chain with mass removal of small herrings, sprats etc., to feed the artificial snapper rearing.

Tony Orman said the minister probably acting on departmental advice, had championed the 50 percent foreign owned King Salmon’s fish farming in the Marlborough Sounds. However minister Jones seemed unaware of King Salmon’s problems which reflected in the “high risk” character of fish farming.

Fish deaths have been high from King Salmon’s operations and tonnes of dead fish are dumped monthly at the Blenheim refuse station.

Tony Orman said initially he tried to get the tonnage figures from the Marlborough District Council but this was refused on the “flimsy” grounds of ”commercial sensitivity.” He asked the Ombudsman to investigate, who after scrutiny ordered the local council to release the figures.

Weak Economic Value

On economic grounds, Tony Orman said a major weakness of pro-fish farm advocacy is the economics. Past fish farm ventures have invariably struggled due to the high risk of disease due to over-crowding as fish farms try to squeeze any profit be it small, out of operations. For New Zealand to compete against other countries' fish farm production, such as Norway, nearer to export markets, is a difficult task.

“Instead forget the fallacious fish farm idea and focus on getting New Zealand’s natural fishery harvesting unshackled from the monopolistic quota management system, dominated by the big corporate companies,” he said.

In conversation a few years ago, with a ministry of fisheries scientist, Tony Orman was told a major obstacle to getting proper management was the strong political influence of corporate fishing companies.

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