May 31, 2010

New Zealand's aquaculture rules relax for greater growth



The government's move to support the aquaculture industry's goal of generating annual sales of NZD1 billion (US$0.68 billion) by 2025 comes as a relief to the industry, which was facing the danger of stagnation.

Due to a lack of space for new farms in shallow inshore waters, the NZD360 million (US$246 million) industry has been hindered from growth.

In April 2010, Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley said, "We will free up the regulatory bottlenecks that have kept aquaculture planning in limbo". The industry, he said, has been stifled by inflexible rules that scared off investment.

At present, farms must be in a designated Aquaculture Management Area (AMA). Would-be farmers must obtain permission from regional councils, and then apply for Ministry of Fisheries consent under the Resource Management Act, an uncertain and costly process that has thwarted the aquaculture industry's development since 2004. Heatley plans to streamline the rules, removing the need for AMAs and luring investors with consents that last for at least 20 years. The government would be able to amend regional coastal plans "in exceptional circumstances where it is in significant regional or national interest".


While New Zealand has a long coastline and many tidal inlets, one of the biggest tests will be finessing competing interests - recreation, Maori groups, tourism and environmentalists. Deepwater farming, while possible, may be too expensive at this stage. An aquaculture bill is expected this year.

"It still has to go through the select committee process," said Mark Gillard, operations and contracts manager with New Zealand King Salmon. He downplays fears of a repeat of the speculative boom-and-bust 1980s. Instead, he points to the 420 staff employed by King Salmon's 5.5ha farm in the Marlborough Sounds. "In terms of employment per hectare, I don't know what would match it," he said. "It makes politicians' eyes bulge when you quote figures like that."

The industry, based largely on green lipped mussels, high-value Chinook salmon and oysters, employs 30% of people working in the seafood industry.

Salmon farming, restricted to the South Island's cold waters, began in the 1970s and last year the industry produced 12,731 tonnes. Other finfish, such as kingfish, may also be farmed, said Gillard. "It's very early days though. We still need water space."

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) expects aquaculture will soon supply half of all fish eaten by people.

While the potential is huge, New Zealand fish farmers will have to watch out for problems that have afflicted aquaculture overseas, including seabed pollution, parasites and other pests.

Video >

Follow Us