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Marine Farming Moratorium Urgently Needed

October 9, 2001 - Wellington

Moratorium urgently needed to halt marine farming gold rush

The grab for sea space by marine farming interests and prospective farmers is out of control and is not sustainable the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says.

"A moratorium on any new marine farming resource consents is needed urgently. The aquaculture review promises too little, too late," Forest and Bird field officer, Eugenie Sage said.

"Current applications for sea space for marine farming exceed 30,000 hectares. This is ten times the area of coastal water now used for aquaculture," Ms Sage said.

"The ad hoc proliferation of marine farms and the gridding of large areas of inshore and offshore waters with farm lines and thousands of plastic buoys risks compromising the wild unspoiled character, habitat and recreational values of important parts of the coast," she said.

"In the Auckland region alone, marine farming is proposed for more than 5,000 hectares within the Firth of Thames," Forest and Bird's northern field officer, Sarah Gibbs, said.

"Miranda in the Firth of Thames is an internationally important habitat for thousands of migratory wading birds. Wading birds that migrate to the Firth from as far away as Siberia depend on the Miranda mudflats and their shellfish beds for their survival."

"The effects of extensive marine farming in the Firth are unknown. There is a risk that such a large area of farmed mussels could affect the marine food web, by depleting phytoplankton (or nutrient) levels affecting the smaller wild shellfish, on which wading birds depend. Much more investigation and research is needed to protect the habitat values of the Firth before any more mussel lines go in the water," Ms Gibbs said.

Other areas with high landscape and ecological values where marine farming is proposed include several hundred hectares of the Kaipara Harbour, at 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.

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.

"The current flood of applications is overwhelming the ability of regional councils to provide for the orderly development of aquaculture under the Resource Management Act," Ms Sage said.

"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," she said.

"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," Ms Sage said.


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.

2. Marine farming is also being proposed in locations where there is little or no information on the practicality and environmental impacts of farming. For example sub-surface methods in exposed locations 3 nautical miles offshore is new in New Zealand.

3. 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.

email: office@ak.forest-bird.org.nz sage@chc.forest-bird.org.nz

Contact: Sarah Gibbs, Northern Field Officer, Tel. (09) 303-3079 (re Auckland and Firth of Thames marine farms); or Eugenie Sage, South Island Field Officer, Tel. (03) 3666 317 (wk) or 3371251 (hm); (re rest of NZ and general comments).

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