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Bureaucracy forces NZ mussel farmer to quit after 30 years

NZ - Three decades have passed since Peter Large joined a small group of hardy men to nurture an emerging industry, grown entirely through number eight wire ingenuity. Now there are well over 2000 hectares of mussel farms in Marlborough's pristine sounds, producing 50,000 tonnes of mussels and making up 80 percent of the industry's national $350 million yield.

PIONEER: Peter Large has been part of Marlborough's mussel industry for 30 years.

However, in the last few months Peter and two other pioneers have quit the industry, saying bureaucracy has stifled its potential, making growth virtually impossible.

Since 1996 Marlborough's mussel industry has been slowed by two moratoriums to offset the gold rush, which Peter believes to be a good thing, in many ways.

Marlborough should really be growing half the mussels it is now for twice the price, he says.

But growing bureaucracy, teamed with the high dollar, has made it too hard for the industry to grow, frustrating producers who have been there since the beginning.

Around 15 years ago corporates like Sealords started getting in to the business, and the price started fluctuating far more than it ever had before, says Peter.

"I was aware of something happening when the big companies started getting involved. The moment that happened we started to have a few hiccups," he says.

As the price fluctuated, mussels became a volume game, with quality less important than quantity. Five years later a "gold rush" mentality took over, as yields of 30 to 40 percent on the dollar started looking good to "Queen St farmers", Peter says. "We pioneered it all and learnt how to do it and then it all grew out of proportion,"

But it hasn't all been about Marlborough mussels. Ten years ago he started growing oysters in Pelorus Sound, marketing them independently as Largie's Pelorus Oysters. An aquaculture venture in the Firth of Thames, followed two years later, ignoring the critics to prove that mussels could be grown there.

Although Peter has sold up his mussel lines in Marlborough, he is keeping a hand in aquaculture.

He'll keep his oysters at this stage and is helping a company in Tasmania set up blue mussel farming. "They are just developing farming methods there, so that's a challenge," he says.

He also intends to keep the Kaiumanui and potentially do some charter work in the Sounds.

But for now, he's looking forward to moving to his new lifestyle block at Hawkesbury, continuing with the great outdoors he was brought up with, he says.

Source: The Marlborough Express