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Independent panel warns govt salmon industry will struggle with public resentment

Wednesday 14th February 2018

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The government has published a report by an independent panel recommending three Marlborough Sounds salmon farms be relocated to more environmentally sustainable sites, with Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash saying he is "some months" from making a decision.

The independent panel released the report to the previous National government in July 2017, following public hearings in April and May that year. Nash said he released the report now "in order to update all interested parties."

"I am making the report public to enable the people and groups who made submissions to study it while I consider the next steps," Nash said in a statement. "I am some months from making a final decision. I intend to discuss the report with a number of people, agencies and iwi who are following this issue closely."

The report says farm owner New Zealand King Salmon's presentation in the public hearings initially seemed like overkill in emphasising "the merits of the company as a corporate citizen and the international reputation of its product", but understood why the company had done so when hearing general public submissions.

"From our reading of the written comments we had already gained an understanding of the depth of anti-proposal feeling, but those written comments were not enough to describe the very strong anger and frustration of many of those who came to speak to their written comments," the report says. "The mood of the hearings changed, as in many cases presenter after presenter expressed their anger at the minister’s use of sections 360A-C of the RMA; at the perceived 'corrupt' (their word) association between the government and NZKS, and the overriding of the Marlborough District Council’s planning functions."

The panel said the minister should be aware of the depth of public opposition and that the salmon farming industry is going to find its future difficult through the RMA and resource planning processes. 

"The minister should send a message to the industry that it needs to continue to be proactive in exploring alternatives, whether land-based or open-sea based, which will enable not only maintenance of operations, but potential development of them," the panel said. "We have concluded that the only real management mechanism open to the minister to send that message is to provide in the policies that any resource consents granted should have a limited term." 

Nash said he would work closely with the Marlborough District Council and iwi in the area, and would allow time for the Ministry for Primary Industries to undertake scientific work around water quality and to test policy and legal advice.

The report recommended relocating the farm in Otanerau Bay in Queen Charlotte Sound to Tio Point in Tory Channel; the farm in Waihinau Bay to Richmond Bay South, both in Pelorus Sound; and the farm in Ruakaka Bay to Horseshoe Bay in Pelorus Sound. 

The panel considered three other salmon farms - one in Forsyth Bay and two in Crail Bay - but didn't recommend they be moved, primarily based on cultural factors, landscape considerations under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, and navigational safety considerations, Nash said. There are currently 12 sites in the Marlborough Sounds which have resource consent for finfish farming, with all but one operated by New Zealand King Salmon. 

King Salmon's shares recently traded at $2.12, up 1 percent today, and have risen 29 percent in the past year.

(BusinessDesk)

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