Environment Waikato will proceed with drafting changes to the Regional Coastal Plan to allow new types of marine farming, including fish farming, in current aquaculture management areas in the Firth of Thames.
The regional council today decided to go ahead with the policy change work without waiting for additional funding. This amends the decision in December to prepare the draft plan change, subject to financial support. At that time, the council intended to share the costs of preparing the plan change with the government and the aquaculture industry.
The government has confirmed its contribution of $70,000 through the Aquaculture Planning Fund, in addition to its previous funding of $90,000 toward the costs of information gathering and environmental impact reports. While the industry has indicated it might contribute, the council has resolved to go ahead with the work without any guarantee of funding.
The change follows discussions between Aquaculture New Zealand, Environment Waikato, Thames-Coromandel and Hauraki district councils to look at the opportunities for, and current barriers to, the development of growth of aquaculture in the Waikato region.
Under the current marine farming chapter of the plan, written in 1999, shellfish farming is the only type of aquaculture allowed in the region; however, kingfish farming, for example, could provide returns of more than $400,000 per hectare – more than 10 times higher than shellfish.
Industry, central government, development agencies and local authorities are keen to see aquaculture grow and develop for the potential benefits that could be worth millions of dollars to the regional economy and create jobs in areas where other opportunities are limited.
Over the next 20 years, it is estimated some $200 million to $300 million would be invested in the Waikato region, leading to the creation of 400-600 new jobs in Thames-Coromandel.
Despite the council’s resolve to support economic development in the region, councillors remain concerned about the potential for significant environmental damage caused by fish farming, which is more intensive than shellfish farming.
The council will take a precautionary approach in drafting the plan change and provide for the development of a small amount of fish farming on a trial basis.
Environment Waikato’s policy team will begin drafting the proposed plan change immediately and will be consulting extensively before presenting a draft to council in 6-8 weeks.
The draft plan change will be adjusted in line with council recommendations, after which point it will be subject to further public consultation.
It is expected that a finalised plan change could be adopted by the council and notified for formal submissions in about six months.
More information is available at www.ew.govt.nz/aquaculture.