salmon farms marlborough
Credit: stuff.co.nz

Sounds salmon farms rammed through

Public submissions closed yesterday on King Salmon Ltd’s controversial proposal for six new salmon farms on high-value sites in the Marlborough Sounds. The National Government is once again creating a special, industry-friendly process which favours developers and reduces environmental safeguards and community influence.

Local iwi oppose new salmon farms

Ngati Apa ki te Rā Tō CEO, Butch Bradley says the process gives “preferential treatment to offshore interests; while denying Maori similar opportunities.” He says nine Top of the South iwi were told that no suitable water space was available for aquaculture as part of their Treaty settlement with the Crown because the Marlborough Sounds plan prohibited marine farming on the sites now sought by King Salmon.

Shoddy process

Instead of Marlborough District Council making the decision under the Resource Management Act (RMA) about whether King Salmon’s new salmon farms should go ahead, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy will decide. He’s also hand-picked the three-person hearing panel that gives him advice. The Minister’s special process cuts across previous community and Council decision making on where marine farming should occur in the Marlborough Sounds, decisions which are part of the Marlborough Sounds Plan.

No one on the panel has scientific, water quality or ecological expertise. With such politicised decision making by the Minister, it will be very surprising if the Department of Conservation (DoC) has made a submission. In the past, DoC’s scientific and planning evidence on ecological and marine habitat values has been important. But under National, DoC’s RMA advocacy has all but collapsed.

This means it will be up to volunteers, community organisations, and groups such as the Environmental Defence Society to shoulder the burden of protecting the Sounds from this major expansion of salmon farms.

Environmental impacts of salmon farming

Cage farming of salmon in the Marlborough Sounds is controversial because of the farms’ effect on water quality from nutrient pollution, on the seabed (from excess food and faeces), on landscape values and the natural character of the coast (from the structures, night lighting and buoys), and because they obstruct recreational boating, and reduce the feeding habitat for the endangered King Shag.

One of the proposed farms is right in the middle of Waitata Reach, the main channel in Pelorus Sound and another at the gateway to Pelorus Sound. They include sites where the Marlborough community and council have previously decided marine farming should be prohibited, and due to the wild and natural character of the coast and outstanding landscape and recreational values.havelock pelorus sound marlborough salmon farms

The Minister claims his proposal implements the views of the Sounds stakeholder group. Yet it ignores the group’s recommendation that salmon farms on King Salmon’s existing sites should be less intensive by reducing fish numbers and the amount of feed used.  That hasn’t even been put as an option because presumably, it would reduce King Salmon’s revenue.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ 2012 investigation of higher than usual salmon deaths on King Salmon’s existing farms showed that environmental factors were probably a cause. A healthy environment is key to the industry’s success.  Allowing the company simply to establish more farms and extend the scale of its impacts is likely to increase the area affected by salmon farming.

The Greens want a successful aquaculture industry. That requires the usual robust and independent decision-making process with the checks and balances that apply under the RMA, not the Minister and his chosen panel signing off on what King Salmon wants.