After nearly two years of information gathering, Environment Waikato has decided to prepare an amendment to the Regional Coastal Plan that would allow new types of marine farming, including fish farming, within current aquaculture management areas.
Under the current marine farming chapter of the plan, written in 1999, shellfish farming is the only type of aquaculture allowed in the region.
Environment Waikato policy committee chair Paula Southgate said Environment Waikato had carefully considered the positive and negative impacts of fish farming over the past 18 months.
“We wanted to be sure we had plenty of robust scientific studies on the environmental impacts before contemplating a plan change.”
She said the proposal scored very well for economics, which was reflected by the enthusiasm of the industry, central government and development agencies. However lessons from overseas had shown that poorly managed fish farms could cause significant environmental damage.
“Because fish farming is more intensive than shellfish farming and involves feeding and potentially the use of medicinal compounds, the ecological effects can be much greater than shellfish farming,” she said.
“A number of technical reports have been commissioned to explore these potential effects.
“We feel a carefully drafted plan change providing for development of a small amount of fish farming on a trial basis in the existing aquaculture marine areas should be sustainable. From that we will learn whether expansion is possible and where it should occur.
“We will continue to take a precautionary approach given the known environmental risks.”
On the plus side, Cr Southgate said the council had been advised kingfish farming could provide returns of more than $400,000 per hectare – more than 10 times higher than shellfish.
“It could be worth millions of dollars to the regional economy and create jobs in areas where other opportunities are limited.”
Initially fish farming would be piloted in about 1-3 per cent of the 1500 hectares of aquaculture management areas in the region. This would allow production of between 2000 and 5000 tonnes of fish. At this stage, Environment Waikato considers that expansion beyond this scale would require new marine farming areas in deeper waters.
Environment Waikato’s policy team will begin drafting the proposed plan change immediately and will be consulting extensively before presenting a draft to council around March next year.
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 council and notified for formal submissions around mid-2009.
More information is available at www.ew.govt.nz/aquaculture.