Changes to aquaculture or marine farming legislation are like a repeat of a bed movie with Government Ministers failing to remember the mistakes of the past.

The current legislative framework was passed to control aquaculture after a gold rush of application during the 1990s around the country. Local government couldn’t cope which was further exacerbated by the absence of resource rentals or rates which meant the aquaculture industry was getting marine space for free.

The Government rhetoric is that there has not been agreement to new space for 10 years but this ignores the huge increase in space that occurred between 1993 and 2003. Further much of the new areas  consented, especially large new offshore areas(thousands of hectareas), have only been partly used and it also unclear whether there new areas are economic.

The aquaculture industry has a goal of getting to $1 billon in exports by 2025, currently the exports are about $370 million. There has been no independent analysis to indicate whether this is possible or practical. There are only so much mussels that can be sold globally without depressing the price, there are competing salmon producers globally, and new fish species have yet to be shown to be economic and rely on fish feed coming from overseas wild fisheries, particularly Peru. The footprint of a finfish farm is much larger than a mussel or oyster farm and includes the fish and other feed used..

In a sneaky move the Government is to over-ride agreed coastal plans and allow marine farming consent holders in the Waikato and Malborough to move from mussel farming to finfish farming without considering the additional environmental effects imposed. While fin fish farms involve the discharge of thousands of tonnes of fish food, no such impect occurs with mussel or oyster farming. This change in activity should be assessed like any other major change in activity through a resource consent process – it is like the Government removing discharge consent requirements from factory farms on land.

Other changes proposed to the Resource Management Act (RMA) included in the legislation are :

Remove aquaculture management area (AMA) requirements – so all marine areas are open to marine farming applications and no area is offlimits;

Set a minimum resource consent term of 20 years for marine farms – ironically this may make it more difficult for new species or unusual farming methods to get consents;

Jointly notify the resource consent under the RMA and the undue adverse affects test under the Fisheries Act;

Add the Minister of Aquaculture with special powers to the Resource Management Act.

The addition of the Minister of Aquaculture to the RMA is an ad hoc proposal which is not required for the sustainable management of the seas. This addition just panders to one industry without a solid justification and could lead to calls from other industries to have powers to over-ride conservation measures. The proposed Ministers powers are wide reaching and could result in the over-turning of publicly agreed measures and prohibitons on aquaculture. This addition means the Government does not trust the Minister of Conservation and regional councils to consider wider resource management issues. The Minister of Conservation currently has the role of approving regional coastal plans.

There currently over 8,000 hectares of marine farming space which resource consent process is frozen and will be opened up under the Bill. ECO has requested further information on these areas.

Legislation to implement these changes was introduced by then Minister of Fisheries, Phil Heatley, at the end of 2010 and were passed in 2011.

As part of these changes the Government has appointed a Minister of Aquaculture. The Ministry of Fisheries(now Ministry of Primary Industry ) has established a new aquaculture unit to promote aquaculture which will be separate from the functions to process new aquaculture applications to determine whether there is an “undue adverse effects” on fishing.