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Sanford Pushing for Trout Farming

NEW ZEALAND - Fisheries company Sanford is lobbying the Government to lift its ban on farming trout in the sea so they can grow the fish species in places including the Marlborough Sounds.

Sanford managing director Eric Barratt yesterday told the Marlborough Express that the Sounds would be more suited to cage-farming of trout than salmon because they could tolerate higher water temperatures.

Unlike New Zealand King Salmon, Sanford would not seek to farm fish in places where the Marlborough District Council had prohibited aquaculture, Mr Barratt said. Instead, the company would aim to convert some of its existing 300 mussel farms to trout, reports Marlborough Express.

"In our mind, sea-farming of trout is one of the best opportunities to expand aquaculture and would be economically viable," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of trout were grown in countries including Chile and Norway and traded on world markets.

Other coastal sites in New Zealand could also be suited to sea-farming of trout, Mr Barratt said.

The 1987 Conservation Act used to prohibit the farming of salmon and trout, he said. About 20 years ago, government lifted the ban to allow salmon-farming. Recreational fishers' fears that this would cause problems including trout disease and mass escapes had proved unfounded.

Sanford farms salmon at Stewart Island but grows only shellfish in the Marlborough Sounds.

Mr Barratt and the Sanford board were in Havelock to tour the company's mussel-processing factory, visit Marlborough Sounds mussel farms and meet people from supporting businesses.

Sanford aquaculture manager Ted Culley said the company grew 1000 hectares of mussels on 300 farms in the Marlborough Sounds; about one third of the total mussel-farming area. In recent years the company had invested about $130 million in Marlborough including mechanisation of the Havelock plant which was completed in April last year.

Sanford bought Sealord mussel farms two years ago and in December 2010 acquired Pacifica Seafoods including Marlborough Mussel farms, boats and equipment, Mr Culley said.

Mechanisation of the Havelock factory had meant being able to process extra mussels from the expanded operation without increasing staff, which stood at 230 people working in two shifts, he said. Seventy people worked on company farms and in harvesting and seeding.

Mr Barratt said the board's visit was a chance to talk about whether the company should make a submission on New Zealand King Salmon's application to develop nine new salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

A decision was not reached but consensus was that coastal marine zones where the Marlborough District Council had prohibited aquaculture should be respected. However, board members were disturbed at the "inaccurate science" being put forward by opponents, Mr Barratt said.

Submitting would be a good opportunity to inform the Environmental Protection Authority about Sanford business operations and philosophy, he said.

The Marlborough council has floated charging aquaculture businesses a coastal occupancy fee to cover water quality monitoring costs. Mr Barrett said Sanford would not object to this charge if it paid for monitoring but would oppose any attempt to make companies pay because they were making money from coastal space.

Trout farming is banned in New Zealand because of dangers to the recreational fishing and tourism industries from farmed trout. There are concerns about diseases. There is also the issue of placing a value on trout, with the wild fish vulnerable to poaching. It is illegal to sell trout in New Zealand.

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