Aquaculture law to get much-needed overhaul

  • Pete Hodgson
Fisheries and Aquaculture

The Government has agreed on a package of legislative reforms providing for the sustainable development of aquaculture, Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson and Environment Minister Marian Hobbs announced today.

A bill to implement the new management regime is to be introduced to Parliament in April next year.

"Shortcomings in the current law are creating difficulties in managing aquaculture,” the ministers said. "It is important for both the environment and marine farming that the approval process for marine farms is made clear and effective.”

Mr Hodgson said there was immense potential for growth in aquaculture, which is already worth more than $280 million a year in sales and more than 7000 jobs. "This is a valuable and highly promising industry for New Zealand and we have identified measures to support its sustainable development without undermining the rights of others."

The proposed changes will enable regional councils to restrict aquaculture to clearly defined Aquaculture Management Areas (AMAs). Development approvals within these areas will be streamlined by providing a single-permit process. Individual sites within an AMA will be tendered under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

“Regional councils will be responsible for considering both environmental effects and fisheries matters in providing for aquaculture under coastal plans, and will have greater powers to manage and control development,” Ms Hobbs said. “This will provide much better integration between coastal planning, aquaculture development and fisheries management.”

The Ministry of Fisheries will retain a significant role in the application process, identifying any adverse effects on customary, recreational and commercial fishers.

Other changes proposed will see all fish farms registered under the Fisheries Act 1996 and all existing marine farming leases, licences and permits moved into the new regime.

To avoid a further speculative rush for space, a two-year moratorium on the granting of resource consents for new aquaculture developments will take effect immediately, allowing time for the new legislation to be drafted, introduced and passed and for better resource management planning to take place.

"Already the lack of clear law and effective processes governing aquaculture has produced an overload of marine farm applications, causing higher process costs and poor environmental results,” the ministers said. “If too much sea is allocated to marine farming it will encroach on environmentally and recreationally valuable areas. Marine farming also suffers if approvals exceed carrying capacity."

The proposed reforms follow a consultation process run last year by the Ministry of Fisheries and Ministry for the Environment that attracted 242 submissions. The majority favoured managing aquaculture under the RMA, although a number of groups also favoured retaining a strong role for the Ministry of Fisheries to ensure that Treaty obligations and the rights of customary and commercial fishers were not put at risk.

The ministers have also made sure that the aquaculture reforms are consistent with the vision for marine resource management identified by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Oceans Policy.

Mr Hodgson said the Oceans Policy consultation process had shown that New Zealanders want integrated management of the marine environment, with decision-making they can have confidence in.

“New Zealanders want our oceans managed in a way that minimises conflict and costs by accommodating a wide range of values and perspectives. The aquaculture reforms are a significant step in that direction.”