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Marine farmers air their frustrations

NEW ZEALAND - Marlborough's marine farmers have aired their frustrations to National Party leader John Key over lack of ability to grow the marine farming industry.

Mr Key toured Aotearoa Seafoods at the Riverlands Estate on Friday and spoke with management and Wakatu Incorporation chairman Paul Morgan.

Aotearoa Seafoods is a $40 million business that exports to 40 countries. At its seasonal peak it employs about 180 people, processing about 9000 tonnes of mussels each year, 85 percent of which is exported. Aotearoa manager Sam Hobson said the marine farming industry was desperate for growth and added value.

The industry required investment to do that, and needed confidence that it could expand. He said no new water space had been allocated since aquaculture law reform and the introduction of the Aquaculture Management Areas (AMA). "And there are costs and uncertainties of being successful in getting other species."

Aotearoa recently had an application for two trial lines declined on the back of the recent d'Urville Island decision. The organisation had spent $500,000 on its d'Urville Island application and it would now have to go through a costly process to review that decision.

After the visit to Aotearoa Seafoods and meeting marine industry representatives Mr Key said there was clearly a lot of understandable frustration and "horror stories" of hundreds of thousands of dollars spent for no reward. New Zealand was not maximising the potential and the party was keen to work with the industry to address that, he said. The AMA system did not appear to be working, and the whole process was too big for local councils to deal with.

"We have to work out whether we are committed to growing the industry and how and where we make it available with the least impact ? and to do that quite quickly."

Mr Key said expansion from existing farms seemed to make sense and using only a fraction of the available space would benefit the industry. Mr Hobson said the obvious problem at the moment was things the company did not have control over. "We are dependent on our export earnings and we are getting whupped on the exchange rate." The elevated dollar meant the business was losing 20 percent of its revenue, or about $1 for every kilogram. "About $3.5 million has basically disappeared. "You can see that just that alone is really ripping the back end out of it, and it's disappointing," he said. "Labour in Marlborough is beyond tight. It's a crisis. This year for the first time we haven't been able to fill positions."

Source: The Marlborough Express