27 May 2013

Process to approve salmon farms questioned

9:30 pm on 27 May 2013

Environmental groups have begun their appeal against a decision to allow four new salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

The hearing in the Blenheim High Court follows a decision by the Environmental Protection Authority's Board of Inquiry to approve the farms for New Zealand King Salmon.

One of King Salmon's farms in Tory Strait.

One of King Salmon's farms in Tory Strait. Photo: RNZ

The company applied to establish nine new farms and the authority approved four in 2012. Campaign group Sustain our Sounds and the Environmental Defence Society are appealing the ruling.

Environmental Defence Society chair Gary Taylor said the appeal concerns the approval of two sites at Waitata and Port Gore. He said the farms would extend into areas that had been previously been set aside by the Marlborough District Council for their landscape and conservation values.

Matthew Palmer, lead counsel for Sustain Our Sounds, told Justice Dobson on Monday that the board's decision-making process contained legal errors.

Dr Palmer said the board acknowledged that the farms could cause significant environmental damage to the seabed, water column and endemic king shag population, and so its decision to approve them is inconsistent with, and contrary to, the purposes and principles of the Resource Management Act.

Sustain Our Sounds also takes issue with board's process of deciding on the proposed plan changes and the resource consents at the same time, rather than determining them one after the other as required by the act.

The group believes the appropriate course of action is to set aside the decision and start the process again.

The hearing is expected to take four days.

Jobs 'at risk'

Outside court, New Zealand King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne said on Monday that jobs could be at risk if the appeal is successful.

"We think it is a really sad situation that those 450 jobs are so dependant on such a small amount of space. We want to switch to biosecure production and as we do that our volume will fall. We had hoped that we would obtain new space to off-set that.

"Every delay puts the existing jobs in jeopardy and we don't want that."

The chairman of Marlborough District Council's environment committee, Peter Jerram, says the council does not oppose salmon farming, but correct process should have been followed.

"The council understands the importance of marine farming in general, and we've dealt with mussel farms and salmon farms here for a long time.

"The issue for us was always about the two zones and trying to find a balance in the Sounds between industry and beauty and recreation."