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Marine Farms Battling


NEW ZEALAND - Aquaculture reforms are eagerly awaited by the marine farming industry, which is desperate to add value to existing water space, says Marine Farming Association chief executive Graeme Coates.

He told The Malborough Express , that the mussel farming industry is at a crossroads; we're battling, there's no doubt about it.

Mr Coates hopes aquaculture recommendations by a Technical Advisory Group report, which is expected to be introduced to Parliament later this year, will allow farmers to add value to their farms.

The group was established early in 2009 to provide the Government with recommendations on how to kick-start the sustained development of aquaculture.

After a moratorium on new aquaculture permits in 2001, industry growth has stalled since 2004 reforms, with no new applications for aquaculture space in Marlborough in the past six years. The report also recommends allowing marine farming for more species.

"We are not so interested in increasing the amount available, we are more interested in increasing the value," he says.

While fin fish farming has been identified as more profitable, Mr Coates doesn't see an exodus from mussel farming in the Marlborough Sounds in the immediate future, because suitable, sustainable species have not been identified for many sites.

However, current production has met international market needs, so value added mussel products are key, he says.

"This is a fantastic product, but it has historically been treated as a frozen export product and we need to turn it into more of an everyday household protein that is eaten fresh or ready to eat."

Health supplements are another option, he says.

Mr Coates has been involved in the New Zealand aquaculture since a foray into eel and oyster farming in 1976. He was later employed by Wattie Industries to develop commercial salmon ranches in the South Island, before heading to Scotland, where he worked a general manager for an aquaculture consulting company.

He eventually moved back to Blenheim because it was close to the fledgling mussel and salmon farming industries. He has been involved with the Marine Farming Association since 1998.

The association is similar to a Federated Farmers of the sea, representing marine farmers in the top of the South Island.

It has acted as a sounding board, consultant and lobbyist for its 130 members for the last three decades.

"I bring a lot of international knowledge, backed up with a wide knowledge of what happens on a marine farm along with a lot of personal skills: dispute resolution, discussion and problem solving."

He says one of the biggest challenges has been in getting the industry regarded as a legitimate and important activity in the region.

"This is an industry which is going to occur whether people have strong views or not. We need to do something so that people have access to greater quantities of seafood."