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Oyster Plans Test Marine Farm Rules

NEW ZEALAND - An application to farm oysters in the Marlborough Sounds tested the water of aquaculture legislation reform, in a Marlborough District Council hearing on Tuesday.

Marlborough Oysters and Global Prospects have applied to develop a 4.7-hectare marine farm at Squally Cove in Croisilles Harbour, reports TheMalboroughExpress.

The applicants' lawyer, Murray Hunt of Blenheim, said he understood this to be the first application for a new marine farm since the Aquaculture Reform Bill was introduced in October.

However, council resource management officer Peter Johnson said the council and the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry had approved one other application for new marine farming space since October.

The new legislation removes the requirement for an aquaculture management area to be in place before marine farming consent applications can be made. Applying for a marine farm now follows the same process as seeking consent for any other activity in the coastal marine area.

Nelson lawyer Tony Stallard represented Challenger Finfisheries Management Company and Maurie Hebberd of Croisilles Oysters, which opposed the application.

Mr Stallard said under the new legislation, the council hearing was the last chance to consider impacts of the proposed farm on fisheries, yet the applicant failed to provide evidence on this.

Mr Hunt disagreed, saying if the council approved the application it would have to be signed off by the ministry, which assessed recreational, commercial and customary fishing impacts.

To fill a potential gap in evidence, hearings commissioner Richard Fowler asked Nelson research company Cawthron's business manager Mike Mandeno for his opinion on whether the proposed farm might have an impact on fishing in the area. While Mr Mandeno was an expert witness for the applicant on spat breeding, this called on his experience in other areas of marine science.

Mr Mandeno said the oyster farm was less intensive than mussel farms, because it carried 400 to 2400kg of shellfish per line compared with 15,000 to 25,000kg per line for other oyster systems and mussels. For this reason, its impact on commercial, recreational and customary fisheries must be relatively minor.

Mr Stallard objected that Cawthron had a vested interest in the application because they would sell oyster spat to the applicant, so Mr Mandeno's opinion might be biased.

Marine farmers Robert and Margaret Hippolite of Okiwi Bay opposed the application because it was alongside a scenic reserve in an area identified as an outstanding landscape, and because the intensive farming proposed could affect already-depleted nutrients and cause disease.

Consultant Keith Heather supported the application with evidence that while the site was alongside a scenic reserve, the landscape was dominated by forestry so was not significant. Scientist and witness for the applicant, Rob Davidson, said diving below the proposed site confirmed that the seabed was muddy rather than rocky so supported only a limited range of species.

Lucy Towers

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