Mussel farmer ordered out of Port Gore
Marlborough Sounds-based Clearwater Mussels has been declined resource consent for two existing mussel farms and must decommission them – largely because of the risk to the threatened king shag.
The company has two farms close together at Pig Bay and Port Gore/te Anamahanga in the Outer Marlborough Sounds which cover about six hectares combined.
Owner John Young said he was discussing an appeal with lawyers – ‘‘there’s hardly anywhere in the Sounds that doesn’t have king shags, they fly for goodness sake’’.
The Environment Court decision said the $1.5 million revenue from the farms was a relatively small percentage of the company’s export revenue of $208m.
The Environment Court ruling on the Clearwater case also took into account evidence about the unsuitability of the farm’s location for natural character, navigation and landscape concerns
Young said losing the $1.5m export value of the crop from the site was not his main concern – it was losing a good site from where he obtained spat for his other operations.
There were relatively few good spat areas. Some had become less productive for unknown reasons possibly related to climate change, Young said.
Young acknowledged the king shag was threatened but also pointed out that experts gave evidence the population had stabilised at low levels in recent years.
‘‘Mussel farming doesn’t leave a footprint like some other activities, it’s pretty benevolent and you can move them.
‘‘We have a pretty serious issue if this is the way things are going to go in the Marlborough Sounds. It’s a nationwide issue for New Zealand as a primary producer
‘‘If you look at the court ruling you’d have to say all forms of recreational boating would have to be excluded because someone’s belief or truth has overridden science in this case,’’ Young said.
The court discounted the company’s proposal for a predator and pest programme against land-based pests such as wasps, possums, red deer and cats, saying they could not be relied on ‘‘to deliver any offsetting or other relevant ecological benefits’’.
‘‘The proposals would give rise to an adverse potential effect to king shag and, hence, to ecological and biodiversity values. The effect is one of disturbance from human activity associated with the maintenance and operation of the farms. While there may be a relatively small risk of such an effect, it is not an insignificant one,’’ the court ruled.
The king shag (Leucocarbo caruncalatus) was one of three species of shags recognised as endemic to New Zealand, and a threatened species under the International Union for Conservation and Nature and New Zealand threat classification systems and is restricted to breeding in the Marlborough Sounds.
The classification is based on restricted range and a population of 250-1000 mature individuals. The population numbers are generally backed by recent counts suggesting there were 839 birds.
There was a breeding presence at Port Gore while nearest of the main colonies to the Port Gore sites was Sentinel Rock about 15km away, while the White Rocks and Duffers Creek colonies were about 20km and 25km away respectively.