Aqua­cul­ture plan con­cerns raised

The Southland Times - - FRONT PAGE - TIM NEW­MAN

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups have raised con­cerns about the pro­posed aqua­cul­ture project on Ste­wart Is­land, say­ing it will sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect its ’’pris­tine ma­rine habi­tat’’.

Both For­est & Bird and the En­vi­ron­ment and Con­ser­va­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tions of New Zealand have ques­tioned the lo­ca­tion cho­sen for the po­ten­tial salmon farm project.

On Thurs­day, For­est & Bird re­leased doc­u­ments, ob­tained through the Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion Act, which looked into the an­tic­i­pated im­pact of aqua­cul­ture on the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment at Port Pe­ga­sus.

The doc­u­ments – dated May 31, 2016, and March 24, 2017 – were from the Min­istry of Busi­ness In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment, ad­vis­ing gov­ern­ment min­is­ters on the es­tab­lish­ment of Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zones and their po­ten­tial ef­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment.

In the March 2017 re­port, it was stated that Port Pe­ga­sus con­tained ‘‘some of the largest ar­eas of near pris­tine ma­rine habi­tat in New Zealand, with sig­nif­i­cant nat­u­ral her­itage val­ues’’.

The re­port also stated the aqua­cul­ture pro­posal would be un­likely to pass the con­di­tions of the Re­source Man­age­ment Act.

‘‘Ini­tial ad­vice is that most of Ste­wart Is­land (and all of Port Pe­ga­sus) will be out­stand­ing from a land­scape and nat­u­ral char­ac­ter per­spec­tive, and salmon farm­ing in th­ese ar­eas would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate un­der the RMA [the act].’’

The act re­stric­tions for pro­jects such as Port Pe­ga­sus could be over-ruled by the es­tab­lish­ment of the spe­cial zones, but an in­ter­ven­tion of that type ‘‘will entail so­cial li­cense risk and risks fail­ing to ad­dress dif­fi­cult trade-offs be­tween com­pet­ing val­ues and uses’’.

The South­land Aqua­cul­ture Ref­er­ence Group, es­tab­lished in April, is con­duct­ing a fea­si­bil­ity study into the mer­its of the aqua­cul­ture project.

For­est & Bird Otago/South­land re­gional con­ser­va­tion and vol­un­teer man­ager Sue Ma­turin said the whole process ‘‘just doesn’t make sense’’.

Ma­turin said there were con­cerns that the gov­ern­ment would seek to es­tab­lish the spe­cial zones to avoid any po­ten­tial act re­stric­tions.

‘‘It’s one of New Zealand’s most re­mote and pris­tine ma­rine en­vi­ron­ments; they’d be in­tro­duc­ing struc­tures into a place which is like a wilder­ness.

‘‘[The pro­posal] would be ex­ceed­ingly dif­fi­cult to pass through the usual meth­ods.

‘‘Our main con­cern is that they try to cir­cum­vent all the usual pro­cesses.’’

Ma­turin said while For­est & Bird had been in­vited to be a part of the ref­er­ence group, it had de­clined.

‘‘It’s a very un­bal­anced ref­er­ence group; it’s all about cre­at­ing a so­cial man­date to go ahead with the project.’’

The ref­er­ence group met at En­vi­ron­ment South­land on Tues­day to dis­cuss the en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic ben­e­fits of the aqua­cul­ture pro­posal.

In par­tic­u­lar, the group was gath­ered to re­view the find­ings of the Nel­son­based Cawthron In­sti­tute, which had been con­duct­ing sur­veys since April on fea­si­bil­ity of the site for salmon farm­ing.

group in­de­pen­dent fa­cil­i­ta­tor Graeme Todd said the fea­si­bil­ity study was ‘‘on­go­ing’’ but did not want to com­ment on what was dis­cussed at the meet­ing.

‘‘The de­tailed anal­y­sis of the sci­en­tific data to un­der­stand the en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic suit­abil­ity of aqua­cul­ture is still to be fi­nalised.

‘‘We re­main com­mit­ted to shar­ing the re­sults of this work with the com­mu­nity and other stake­hold­ers when it is right to do so.’’

That would ’’hope­fully’’ be within six weeks, Todd said.

Ini­tially, the meet­ing was sup­posed to be a pub­lic meet­ing with Ste­wart Is­land res­i­dents to up­date them on the progress of the study.

How­ever, the meet­ing was can­celled as it was seen as not ap­pro­pri­ate to be held while the oys­ter re­moval process was go­ing on at Big Glory Bay.

The aqua­cul­ture project forms part of the South­land Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy, and has been high­lighted as one of the three key pro­jects to help di­ver­sify the re­gion’s econ­omy.

How­ever, the project has not been plain sail­ing since the an­nounce­ment of the pro­posed site in Pe­ga­sus Bay at the end of March.

In May, fears were raised that the salmon farm could have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the bur­geon­ing sea lion colony in the bay, while in June the pro­posal was met with some op­po­si­tion at a pub­lic meet­ing on Ste­wart Is­land.

RICHARD COS­GROVE

A view of the coast­line at Port Pe­ga­sus, Ste­wart Is­land.

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