The government is looking to triple the size of the aquaculture industry by 2025 with a cash injection of $6.5 million, however Forest & Bird has concerns it is being managed by under-resourced councils and with little central government planning.

Development unbridled

New Zealand made its first foray into aquaculture in the 1960s but it wasn’t until the 1990s when we truly tried to kick start this industry in earnest. It proved disastrous  – rather than rolling out carefully managed farmlets in designated areas, they offered up large areas of the coast. Conservationists pointed to the polluted black sludge under mussel and salmon farms. Coastal residents were up in arms because buoys, oyster-frames and sea cages spoilt their much-coveted views & swimming areas. And boaties bemoaned the fact that their prize fishing spots would be taken from them – something that played out in the courts. A regulations clampdown ensued, and many operations were shut down.

Finding the right homes for these fish, or shellfish farms is important because these coastal waters are home to migratory whales, critically endangered hector’s dolphins, threatened sea-lions and many unique marine ecosystems.

So in order to grow the industry we need to look at the best suitable spots for aquaculture – out of the way of scenic spots, important habitats, feeding grounds & migratory routes.

Currently the government is looking to open up the entire coastline of NZ to aquaculture in the absence of much of this information.

There are several regional councils that have done significant coastal planning and earmarked spots that would be suitable for aquaculture (see map).

These councils are -

  • Northland
  • Auckland
  • Hawkes Bay
  • Marlborough
  • Southland

In these areas, coastal planners are employed and sea-life surveys have been conducted to determine the best position for fish farms. 

Outside these areas many of the councils are under-resourced and a many (West Coast, Gisborne, Manawatu, Wellington, Chatham Islands) do not employ full-time coastal planners.

We believe that developing a billion dollar industry without coastal planning and environmental management to monitor the cumulative effects of the industry and impacts will repeat many of the problems seen in the late 1990s (see pull box).

The current Aquaculture Legislation Amendment Bill will also speed up the process of development at the expense of community consultation.

In some cases (Firth of Thames, Tasman/Golden Bay) new farming areas will be opened up by Government with no coastal planning and minimal consultation.

It will give industry a 30 year lease with rights of renewal on a first-in basis – if these farms fail, the public will pay for the mess and there will be little opportunity to return these fish-farms back to natural coastal areas.

Forest & Bird believes that in order to properly develop this industry the Government needs to show better leadership by -

  • Conducting research of the coastal areas – so we all know where aquaculture can safely go and not go! The Marine Protected Area surveys in eastern Northland and Auckland have already done much of this.
  • Resourcing all regional councils with coastal planners, so that these developments fit into regional marine spatial planning.
  • Allowing enough time and plenty of opportunities for community input into new marine farms and renewal licenses. We all want them in the right places.