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16 June 2024

Proposed marine farm bill needs to better recognise the public interest

The Commissioner has made submissions to the Primary Production Committee outlining his concerns about the Resource Management (Extended Duration of Coastal Permits for Marine Farms) Amendment Bill.

If enacted, this bill will seriously undermine the system that manages the marine space used for aquaculture.

“Aquaculture takes place in public spaces that are managed on behalf of all New Zealanders. This means the public have a right to be consulted on how that space is allocated and used,” the Commissioner says.

“Permission to occupy public space and use public resources is a privilege. It comes with a responsibility to use those resources in a way the community considers appropriate.”

By extending all permits – including those that local communities have decided are located in areas unsuited to marine farming – the amendment overturns the results of community consultation undertaken over more than a decade.

As framed, the bill will effectively provide for continuation of conditions that may need review. It locks in existing operating conditions for marine farms, some of which are already decades out of date and may allow for environmentally suboptimal outcomes.

“A wholesale extension for consents without any examination of whether environmental practices are out of date or missing will undermine public confidence in this industry’s licence to operate,” the Commissioner warns.

There is a provision for review of marine farms’ consents, but not for the most significant issue with most farms – their location.

Any review that is undertaken, must happen within 24 months of the bill passing, and costs are not recoverable from the applicant. This means that any reviews would need to happen in a narrow window and would be paid for by ratepayers.

“The public is being asked to subsidise the costs of private businesses using the coastal marine area – a public resource – to ensure that their activities minimise damage to the publicly owned environment.”

“Given that the purpose of consent conditions is to manage environmental impacts, it would make sense to receive input from people and organisations holding relevant knowledge about those impacts. The current drafting of the bill essentially rules that out,” the Commissioner explains.

Aquaculture, marine farm, marlborough sounds, dave m, flickr

Marine farm, Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Dave M, Flickr