By Jenny Ruth
July 31 (BusinessDesk) - The seafood farming industry is welcoming the government’s move to create consistent rules across the country for re-consenting existing marine farms.
Environment Minister David Parker and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash announced earlier this week that a draft national environmental standard for marine farms will go to cabinet for a final decision in early 2020.
The industry includes a large number of mussel and salmon farms which will need to be re-consented in 2024.
Currently, such re-consenting is done by regional councils on an individual consent by consent basis and the industry estimates that would cost the industry about $60 million in the absence of a national environmental standard, or NES.
“I’m very encouraged by the development of the NES and the consideration given by the ministers that will bring it into play. It just makes so much sense,” says Aquaculture New Zealand chief executive Gary Hooper.
The ministers said in their announcement that marine farming generated more than $600 million in revenue last year and that “we have heard industry’s feedback that a more efficient regulatory framework is essential to achieving its aspiration of $1 billion annual earnings.”
They said there are 689 existing marine farm consents representing about 60 percent of the industry that are due to expire within the next seven years.
Listed companies New Zealand King Salmon and Sanford own some of those salmon and mussel farms.
Sanford chief executive Volker Kuntzsch says the news “seems very positive at first glance, although we look forward to hearing more of the detail,” and stresses the importance of aquaculture to regional economies.
“For Sanford, it is an important part of our business with our Greenshell mussels – which we grow in several parts of New Zealand – and our salmon – which we farm in the waters of Stewart Island,” Kuntzsch says.
Having so many consents due to expire “does not create a great environment for investment growth and confidence. Having more certainty and predictability will enable investment to occur and gives us confidence about the work we are doing to provide a very clean and green form of protein to New Zealanders and the world.”
The NES will encourage Sanford to continue to explore new developments such as innovative new uses for mussels, such as its mussel powder.
“Knowing that we can feel secure about a good supply of the raw ingredients into the future is important to our vision and plans for this sector.”
NZ King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne says the re-consenting process can been hugely expensive, even though the farms in question have been operating for 20 years, and especially if each application requires a new scientific report to justify the farm’s existence.
“Why does the industry need to spend $60 million on something that’s a known quantity? Are we any better off getting them all re-consented at such a cost,” Rosewarne says.
The NES is an improvement on the current system but Rosewarne would like the government to go further and grant salmon farms perpetual licences like Norway does. The newest three of his company’s farms gained 35-year consents ahead of the company’s NZX listing in 2016.
Rosewarne’s company has been trying for years to get approval to relocate several of its farms in the Marlborough Sounds to more suitable sites within the sounds – these are farms located in shallower and therefore warmer parts of the sounds.
The company has learnt from years of experience that salmon fare better in much deeper, cooler waters.
Earlier this month, NZ King Salmon lodged a revised proposal with Fisheries New Zealand and Rosewarne says his company has gained the support of seven of the eight iwi with interests in the Marlborough sounds. He is clearly frustrated by the long-winded process and the many often-contradictory conditions his company is having to meet.
“You need to get on with everybody. You have to be invisible but, at the same time, we want you to stand out so much that there are no navigation issues.”
Rosewarne says his company is also looking at establishing salmon farms in the open ocean and he is urging the government toevelop biosecurity rules to govern such farms.
Climate change is starting to affect companies like his much faster than new rules are being developed to allow companies to adapt, he says.
NZ King Salmon’s fish mortality rate increased sharply last summer, largely because of warmer than usual waters, leading the company’s harvest volume falling 13 percent in the six months ended December.
“No one’s written the biosecurity rules for the open ocean” but the issues are already well known so developing such rules ought to be easy, much easier than many much more intractable climate change issues.
NZ King Salmon is testing a number of sites from Cook Strait to Stewart Island.