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Published: 2016-05-03 00:00:00

Interest in starting a fish farming venture in the Hauraki Gulf has prompted Waikato Regional Council to consider calling for tenders for the use of space in the Coromandel Marine Farming Zone off the north-west Coromandel coast.

A staff report recommending that the full council release the zone was approved by a majority of the strategy and policy committee today, following wide-ranging discussion on various issues.

Strategy and policy committee chairman Bob Simcock said Waikato is already a major marine farming region, second only to the Marlborough Sounds in terms of production and employment. “While it is essential that environmental risks are adequately managed and mitigated through a comprehensive resource consent process, fish farming offers potential for further benefits.”

The report recommended the council directs that a tender should proceed for space to farm fish within the specially designated 300 hectare zone.

Several years ago there was strong interest in farming kingfish and hapuku in the region. The zone was subsequently established in 2011 by a central Government amendment to the Waikato regional coastal plan. But due to the global financial crisis interest in fish farming waned.

Now staff have been advised of renewed interest in farming fish, with the single undisclosed party involved looking at occupying space in the outer Firth of Thames that has been zoned for fish farming. Because of this renewed interest, staff put the report to the committee.

Space available in the zone would be released for development after a tender process. That process would take into account key factors of a bid such as environmental management practices, economic benefit, and any monetary contribution to council and central Government.

Successful tenderers would need to apply to the council for a resource consent. The report noted that any application for a resource consent to farm fish would have to be accompanied by a comprehensive site specific assessment of potential environmental effects. “The resource consent [process] will determine whether that impact is sustainable,” it said, adding that the relatively deep Coromandel Marine Farming Zone was a preferable area from an environmental protection perspective.

The report noted that the environmental impacts of fish farming could be greater than for shellfish farming and that poorly managed farms overseas have had “significant” impacts. “Modern fish farm management addresses these concerns but it should be recognised that a marine farm will always have some degree of residual impact on the environment. The resource consent process will determine whether that impact is sustainable.”