Potential Relocation of Salmon Farms in the Marlborough Sounds

Comments to advisory panel from: Marlborough Environment Centre (MEC)
Speaker: Bev Doole
Date: May 2, 2017


The Marlborough Environment Centre (MEC) is an incorporated society, established in 1989 to promote awareness and protect the environment through education and engagement with resource management decision-making.
MEC took part in developing the Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan (MSRMP) that was notified in 1995 and introduced aquaculture zones CMZ1 and CMZ2. MEC has submitted on marine farming resource consent applications and strives to protect the ecology, recreational enjoyment and landscape values of the Marlborough Sounds.

The MEC’s comments to this panel, submitted in March, covered eight issues:

  1. Undemocratic process: Attempt to replace decisions of the Supreme Court and Board of Inquiry. Section 360A takes decision-making away from the Marlborough District Council and community.
  2. Inequitable use of government funds: Government funding of at least $1m for MPI to develop this proposal for NZ King Salmon. There is no funding for members of the public to develop their responses
  3. Lack of consideration of alternatives: There are no expert reports or cost-benefit analysis of offshore or land-based salmon farming.
  4. Need for a precautionary approach: Let’s see if NZKS can manage its five existing high-flow sites within the benthic guidelines and then look at the acceptability to the community of new farms.
  5. Increased stocking and nitrogen discharge: Four-fold increase in feed is proposed, which means an equivalent increase in nitrogen pollution
  6. Threat to king shag: new farms are in the feeding area of the nationally endangered king shag
  7. Landscape and cumulative effects: Degradation of outstanding natural landscapes and high natural character values of the Waitata Reach
  8. Poor consultation: Lack of time and opportunity to source independent reports or interrogate those provided by NZ King Salmon. Failure by MPI and NZKS to establish social licence.

I will focus on four of these issues today. But first some background.

It’s good to hear the Panel has flown over the proposed relocation sites, and through that we hope you’ve a gained growing appreciation for the special geography and beauty of the Marlborough Sounds.
However a view from a helicopter is not the way most people experience the Sounds. It is by boat, or kayak, walking, fishing, or just sitting on the deck of a bach, enjoying the view and nature.
It’s about wilderness, peace and quiet, beauty. It’s why people travel across the world to visit places like the Waitata Reach.
Special areas like the Waitata Reach are prohibited for salmon farming under the District Council’s Marlborough Sounds Plan in order to safeguard the marine ecosystems, landscape values and the recreational enjoyment of the Sounds.
In his media release to announce the relocation proposal in January, the Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy said: “This proposal is about making better use of existing aquaculture space.”
However he was mistaken. This proposal is not about existing aquaculture space. It’s about PROHIBITED aquaculture space. And it’s prohibited because the Marlborough District Council and the community negotiated the Sounds Plan so there are still areas that can be enjoyed by all as a natural experience, not an industrial one.
These matters were thrashed out at the Board of Inquiry in 2012 and then right up to the Supreme Court. It was a gruelling process for the community, with thousands of volunteer hours going into submissions and presentations. But people made the effort because they felt the need to defend the significant values in the Marlborough Sounds… the values that don’t show up on a financial balance sheet.
They included bach owners, yachties, recreational fishermen, kai moana gatherers, kayakers, divers and tourism operators. And they talked about the beauty of wide open stretches of water, views through bush to the untouched bays below, king shags roosting, dolphins jumping, their spots for gathering seafood, and underwater ecosystems that need clean water the same way that humans need clean air.
These are the values that attract people from throughout New Zealand and around the world to visit and enjoy the Marlborough Sounds. And here are some of the things they come to see.

We can see that the Waitata Reach is a unique and special place that needs careful management and a long-term view.
The predicted economic benefits of this relocation proposal must be balanced against the long-term costs to underwater ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, degraded landscapes and reduced recreational enjoyment. There could also be economic damage to the tourism industry and the mussel industry, if nutrients released by farmed salmon contribute to increased toxic algal blooms. (1)
The Board of Inquiry decision identified the threshold number of salmon farms for Waitata Reach as TWO – Waitata and Richmond/Kopaua – and turned down three others because of the cumulative effects on landscape, natural character, King shag feeding and tangata whenua values (2). Yet this relocation plan is proposing FIVE more farms in this area, additional to the two granted by the BOI. It’s hard to see this as anything but a greedy grab for water space.
In an opinion piece in the Marlborough Express, NZ King Salmon’s chief executive Grant Rosewarne said: “If the MPI proposal goes ahead, the environment will be improved.” (3)
The Sounds environment is not going to be improved by increasing fish stocking levels, increasing feed levels by a factor of four and the corresponding increase in the amount of nutrient discharge from the farms.
After years of denial, NZ King Salmon has finally admitted their low-flow farms are polluted and not sustainable (4) which raises questions about the veracity of the company’s advertising and promotion in the past.
However, having established that their operation is NOT sustainable, they say the relocation of the salmon farms is about improving the environment…, but let’s be clear…it’s actually about producing more fish to sell.

NZ King Salmon want to shift their farms to increase their production… and that’s because they want to make more money than they could within the environmental limits of their current locations.
Producing more fish to sell is a perfectly valid approach for a commercial operation. And it also fits with the government’s Business Growth Agenda of a $1bn aquaculture industry by 2025.
But…. this relocation proposal must be balanced against the effect on the environment and the effect on other users of the Marlborough Sounds. And that is at the core of our submission.
Unless you’re a diver, it’s hard to imagine what is happening under the sea, out in the remote Pelorus Sound. As a land-based comparison, think of it like this. It’s not OK for a dairy farmer who has been pulled up for discharging too much effluent into a slow stream… to then be rewarded with a bigger herd of cows and allowed to discharge significantly more effluent into a faster stream.
Dilution as a way to deal with fish waste in the Sounds is the same principle that dairy farmers relied on over the past 30 years as they intensified their land use – until we found rivers that are polluted and no longer swimmable, and previously iconic lakes like Rotorua, Taupo and Ellesmere are now well known for their high levels of eutrophication.
The lessons are clear from the dairy industry that dilution can not be relied on to protect our waterways. And the push for economic growth must not be at the expense of the environment.
We’ll now look at the four issues in more detail.
1. Alternative farming methods
The NZKS Supreme Court 2014 decision ruled there was an obligation to consider alternatives under the NZ Coastal Policy Statement and Section 32 of the RMA… “Particularly where the applicant for a plan change is seeking exclusive use of a public resource for private gain.” [SC 172-173]
The relocation proposal has no cost-benefit analysis about alternatives and no information about what is happening in other countries. The Marlborough Salmon Working Group’s advice to the Minister5 states that some members believe this option has not received sufficient attention and we share their concern.

Appendix 1 and 2 are attached as examples of what is being developed overseas and the timelines involved. The Tasmanian example of Huon Aquaculture is particularly interesting, as they are operating in the Tasman Sea with waves up to 13m high. They have automated on-board systems that mean crew can save manual tasks for calmer days.

In Europe there’s more development of off shore farming systems, as well as designing that are self-contained farms operating out at sea. This would remove issues about anchoring farms in high-energy environments.

Offshore or land-based farming is a better approach to coping with rising sea temperatures rather than putting more farms into the Waitata Reach, an area where water temperatures are already marginal.

Appendix 3 is a map prepared by Mark Gillard of NZKS for the Board of Inquiry. It shows that the Waitata Reach is marginal for growing healthy king salmon. Mr Gillard told the Board that salmon need water temperatures of 12-17 degrees Celcius to grow well. Anything above that and they start dying. The company says the high rate of salmon deaths at Waihinau Bay in Waitata Reach in 2015 was caused by an increase in water temperature to 18 degrees Celsius. 6

As the effects of climate change are felt around the world, it’s inevitable that water temperatures in the Marlborough Sounds will continue to rise above the ideal conditions for salmon.
MEC agrees with those members of the Marlborough Salmon Working Group who said offshore options have not been given enough attention. Rather than spending millions of dollars trying to get this relocation proposal across the line in an area where water temperatures are marginal and landscape impacts are high, the Environment Centre submits that greater effort needs to go into alternative methods that take salmon farming out of the enclosed waters of the Marlborough Sounds.

In his submissions to the panel, MPI Aquaculture Unit manager Dan Lees estimated that offshore farming would be achievable in 10-15 years. Grant Rosewarne has put it at 10 years.

In the overall scheme of things, with NZKS expecting to double its production from the five high-flow farms it already has, 10-15 years is not a long time to wait for alternative technology… technology that would safeguard the industry and the Sounds, into the future.

Undemocratic process
The use of Section 360A of the RMA gives the Minister of Aquaculture absolute power to intervene in the Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan. It takes the decision-making away from the local community.

And from a democracy point of view, the relocation proposal has muddied the waters as we work to update the community-owned Marlborough Sounds Plan, which dates back to 1995. That Plan came about after 30 years of discussion and consultation with ALL users of the Sounds. It created the Coastal Management Zone 1 and 2 that we’re discussing today.

As we approach the next version of the Plan, we have fundamental questions to consider: do we want more salmon farming in the Sounds? Or do we have enough farms and want to protect what’s left for coastal ecosystems, recreation and tourism?

These were the conversations we were due to have with the notification of the Marlborough Environment Plan in June last year. However the Council, under pressure from the marine farming industry and MPI, removed the Aquaculture Chapter from the Marlborough Environment Plan.

We do not think it is a coincidence that this relocation proposal has emerged in that planning vacuum. The Marlborough Environment Plan is the proper place for decisions about the expansion of salmon farming in the Sounds rather than ruling by Ministerial edict.

MEC is also concerned about the Department of Conservation… where is its voice in this Whole-of-Government approach on the relocation proposal?

It’s disappointing to see there are no reports from DOC about effects on marine mammals such as dolphin bait-ball behavior or effects on endangered hector’s dolphins which, like King Shag, are a nationally endangered species.
There is no report from the Department of Conservation on the implications under the NZ Coastal Policy Statement. Where is the consideration of Policy 11 – protection of indigenous biodiversity; Where is the consideration of Policy 13 – preservation of natural character and protection from inappropriate use and development; and where is the consideration of Policy 15 – protection of natural features and landscapes, including seascapes, from inappropriate use and development?

There is no mention of DOC’s Treaty of Waitangi responsibilities under Section 4 of the Conservation Act. This sets out their responsibility to be an effective Treaty Partner and undertake meaningful consultation with iwi.
We can only conclude that the role of the Department of Conservation has been subsumed by the Ministry for Primary Industries in its drive for economic growth.
And finally, MEC is concerned about the use of taxpayer money in this process. The MPI paper to Cabinet shows Government is providing $1million to develop this proposal for NZ King Salmon, (that does not include the salaries of MPI staff). And $250K has been set aside to defend this process through judicial review.
In contrast to this, there is zero Government funding for community groups to develop responses and challenge the process through judicial review. (The Section 360A process does not qualify for Government-funded Environmental Legal Assistance.)
Community groups don’t have the resources of MPI and NZ King Salmon. We rely on organisations such as the Environmental Defence Society to do the heavy lifting. And they in turn rely on donations and philanthropy to present their case…. This is not a level playing field.

3. Consultation and Social Licence
You heard yesterday from Mr and Mrs Hellstrom about the need for NZKS to earn its social licence to operate in the Sounds.
Social licence is about a company understanding the concerns of the community and changing its environmental and business behavior to ease those concerns. Genuine social licence is not bought with marketing campaigns or sponsorship deals. It is about trust and confidence in a company’s operations, built up over time.

It is especially important for industries that use public space, like the coastal marine area, for their private gain.
It would be fair to say that NZ King Salmon’s social licence took a hammering through the Board of Inquiry process. And MPI are probably not the best mentors for improvement judging by this quote from Aquaculture Unit manager Dan Lees (7):

“MPI [has a] double-barrelled approach of working to eliminate or minimize the key impediments to aquaculture growth, while at the same time creating an environment where the industry can maximize the opportunities for growth and development.”
From where the Marlborough Environment Centre is sitting, those are chilling words. Communities who stand up and say no to aquaculture may be seen as impediments… to be eliminated or minimized.
There is only one mention of “environment” and it has nothing to do with the ecosystems and carrying capacity of the Marlborough Sounds, and everything to do with Central Government intervening to change Councils’ resource management plans to enable more aquaculture.
Earning social licence is about building relationships with your community. The battering ram of Section 360A, following close on the heels of the BOI process, is not a good way to rebuild relationships in the Marlborough Sounds. It’s not a good look for NZ King Salmon and it’s not a good look for the Government.

Which brings us to the final issue –

4. Taking a precautionary approach
Policy 3 of the NZ Coastal Policy Statement calls for a precautionary approach. This was reinforced by the BOI decision par 179: “[The precautionary approach] provides for ongoing monitoring of the effects of an activity, in order to promote careful and informed environmental decision-making, on the best information available.”
The three high-flow sites granted by the BOI are only just coming on stream. MEC advocates a precautionary approach: let’s see how these ones are doing before even considering any new farms.

NZKS needs to show it can operate these farms, along with their two other high-flow sites, to comply with the Benthic Guidelines at maximum feed levels for at least three years. [This timeframe is consistent with BOI Condition of Consent 44a]

The three new farms are expected to double production for NZKS8 if they’re managed properly. That would be an increase from 6000T of salmon a year to about 12,000T so the company could still be profitable, jobs could still be created, and the environmental impacts could be managed.
The community needs to see that NZKS can:

  1. Operate its five high-flow farms within the benthic guidelines at maximum feed levels
  2. Keep fish mortalities to an acceptable level
  3. Provide monitoring that shows what effect farm waste is having on the water column and embayments
  4. Report in a transparent way, with easy access to monitoring results on MDC and NZKS websites

As far as the low-flow sites are concerned, MEC recommends Outcome Three in the relocation proposal – reduce the feed and stocking rates to meet the Benthic Guidelines.
Throughout this process to prepare comments for the panel, one question keeps coming to mind:

What’s changed since the Board of Inquiry and Supreme Court deliberations?

These were robust judicial processes, put in place by this Government to determine new farming space for NZKS.
It took months and months, not just a matter of weeks, to hear the evidence and canvass the issues and make the rulings to allow three farms. The issues that are in front of you today were considered by them, only in much greater depth. Yet you have the task of coming up with a recommendation to the Minister that could potentially have a wider impact on the environment and the community.
We ask that you balance the projected economic benefits of this relocation proposal with the effect on the environment and the effect on other users of the Marlborough Sounds.

We ask that the Minister looks beyond short-term gain and instead invests with the industry in researching alternatives to make offshore and land-based salmon farming a reality.
And we ask NZ King Salmon to be satisfied with their existing five high-flow sites that will double their production. Prove you can farm these sites at maximum feed levels within the benthic guidelines. And reduce the feed and stocking rates at the low-flow sites so they comply too.
Our desired outcome is Option C: The Minister does not recommend the proposed regulations.

Relief sought:

If any part of this relocation proposal is approved by the Minister, the Marlborough Environment Centre seeks the following:

  1. Consents for a maximum of 10 years, or earlier, as offshore technology comes on stream.
  2. In recognition of its free occupation and discharge into public water space for the past 30 years, NZKS to pay Marlborough District Council costs of modelling, monitoring and compliance associated with its marine farms and contribute to research into wider Sounds effects.
  3. NZKS to lodge an Environmental bond of $2 million with MDC. If annual monitoring shows benthic guidelines are not being met by any farm, an annual payment of $200,000 from the environmental bond goes to environmental groups working to restore and protect the Sounds – recipients to be determined by the MDC.
  4. NZKS to lodge a Jobs Bond of $1 million with MDC to hold NZKS to their claims of jobs created. The number of people employed by NZKS to be audited each year. If the jobs are not created as claimed in this proposal, an annual payment of $100,000 from the Jobs Bond goes towards environmental groups working to restore and protect the Sounds – recipients to be determined by the MDC.1 Potential Relocation of Salmon Farms in the Marlborough Sounds, page 52
    2 BOI decision, [1252]
    3 Salmon Farm relocation plan in the spotlight, Marlborough Express, 22 March 2017
    4 Enrichment Stage levels 2012-2015, page 12, MSWG advice to Minister
    5 Report to Minister, November 23, 2016, page 15,
    6 Millions lost after warm seas kill salmon, Marlborough Express, March 13, 2015
    7 MPI Progress and Priorities, Aquaculture NZ magazine February 2014
    8 NZKS Product Disclosure Statement, September 2016, page 2