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Aquaculture still fighting for social license - Environment Minister

Friday 22 September 2017

The aquaculture industry still has a social licence battle to win, Environment Minister Nick Smith told the sector's annual conference in Nelson yesterday.

He said there was still a view in some quarters that aquaculture was a threat to biosecurity and those opponents "would close you down".

Smith, who has championed the aquaculture industry as Nelson MP, said those negative views were contained in some of the 100 submissions received on development of a new national environmental standard for aquaculture.

He told 350 conference delegates at the Rutherford Hotel the industry needed to be constantly winning the argument with communities in the Marlborough Sounds, Thames and Northland that it was a well-regulated industry.

He was frustrated by people such as bach owners who may face a minimal impact from marine farming activities such as a safety light at night, resorting to a landscape values objection under coastal policy provisions as if that exceeded the rights of people to have jobs and boost the economy.

He said it was critical to develop a new environmental standard for aquaculture.

Marine farmers were worried about the expensive bureaucratic process and the uncertainty of renewing consents one by one over the next few years.

There was no other industry that offered greater opportunities for growth, exports, science and innovation, Smith said.

Current industry annual production of $500 million is forecast to double by 2025.

Smith pointed to significant changes made to the Resource Management Act in May that streamlined planning changes. He urged the industry to use the new processes.

Scheme changes had previously been painfully slow, taking an average five-and-a-half years.

"You can throw as much aquaculture product at me as you like," he said to laughter, a reference to recent unwelcome targeting by activists opposing poisoning of pests in a new Nelson reserve.

He added the application for relocation of King Salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds needed to be urgently acted on, certainly by Christmas.

Wakatu Incorporation chair Paul Morgan questioned Smith over proposed removal of oysters from the company's farms in Port Underwood by the Ministry for Primary Industries in attempting to control the parasite bonamia ostreae.

He disputed whether this was necessary, that it was not supported by the science and claimed the flat oyster fishery would be destroyed, ending years of research and cultivation.

Smith avoided a direct answer, saying the science was uncertain and it was important to invest in research.

He said MPI was criticised for being risk averse but the minute anything went wrong it was in the gun.

An example was kiwifruit growers who urged the import of pollen over MPI reservations, but since disease was introduced they were now suing MPI and the Government for allowing the pollen into the country.

MPI director-general Martyn Dunne told the conference later in the day, the big personal and financial cost of the bonamia eradication was recognised.

He said all oysters on cages and lines at Big Glory Bay on Stewart Island had been removed and attention was now being turned to the Marlborough Sounds fishery.

He also cited the importance of social licence.

It was about collaboration and selling the story so that people were convinced what you were doing was in support of them, rather than working against their interests.

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