Fish farms spark green debate in New Zealand

As a flock of seagulls swoops on a salmon farm in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds, attracted by the thrashing fish within, tour boat operator Peter Beech sighs and says: “I’m not sure this is a fight we can win.”

Beech has plied the pristine waters at the top of the South Island all his life but fears plans to increase aquaculture in the Sounds will create an ecological time bomb in the area his family has lived in for six generations.

The New Zealand government has announced the end of a 10-year moratorium on aquaculture in the region, a magnet for tourists who come to marvel at dolphins, seals and whales on eco-tours such as those operated by Beech.

“It has the potential to turn our beautiful Sounds into one great big fish farming area,” he said.

The New Zealand King Salmon Company has applied to create more fish farms in the area to double its output to 15 000 tonnes by 2015 as part of a long-term plan to become an NZ$500-million ($410-million) company.

The debate puts the Marlborough Sounds at the centre of debate over whether fish farms can be sustainably developed in environmentally sensitive areas to meet booming world demand for seafood.

Aquaculture accounts for about 46% of the seafood consumed annually and the proportion is increasing as wild fish stocks decline, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report released this year.

The World Wildlife Fund says that, if properly managed, aquaculture has the potential to reduce pressure on wild fish stocks amid rising demand for seafood, particularly from increasingly affluent Asian consumers.

King Salmon says it is acutely aware of its environmental responsibility and there have been no problems at its existing Marlborough Sounds fish farms, which were established before the moratorium.

Chief executive Grant Rosewarne said expanding the industry would also bring much-needed jobs to the area and, with premium smoked salmon fetching up to NZ$250 a kilogramme, provide export earnings for New Zealand’s flagging economy.


Small space, huge value
“I don’t think there’s any other agricultural industry that in such a small amount of space can create such a huge amount of value,” he told Agence France-Presse at the company’s processing factory in Nelson.

He points out that even if the expansion plan goes ahead, King Salmon’s fish farms will cover only 15 hectares of Marlborough Sounds’s waters, about 0.1% of its total area.

In addition he says that King Salmon’s farms do not have pests such as sea lice that infect similar operations overseas and it is in the company’s interests to keep it that way.

But Beech, who has established an environmental group called Guardians of the Sounds, points to the environmental problems created by salmon farms in countries like Scotland and Chile when the industry rapidly expanded.

“The only reason it hasn’t happened here is because there are so few of them. But as soon as they start to farm intensively, they’ll get diseased, you mark my words, just like they have in every other country in the world.”

Beech said the “visual pollution” of fish farms — which are enclosed by large fences around the fish pools — and the threat of disease could undermine New Zealand’s “100% pure” tourism marketing slogan.

Local farmer Eric Jorgensen, chairperson of another green group called SoundFish, said his main concern was that the government, with its eye on lucrative export dollars, had declared aquaculture an industry of national significance.

He said this meant responsibility for planning and approvals has been stripped from the regional council and given to the national government in Wellington, stoking fears it was intent on allowing a massive expansion.

The danger, Jorgensen, said, was that in its eagerness to increase aquaculture production, the government would allow in overseas players who did not have a commitment to preserving the Sounds’ unique environment.

“There is a place for aquaculture. No problem with that. I don’t think anyone today would say that there should be no aquaculture,” he said.

“But [we need to determine] what is the optimum amount of aquaculture that can and should occur, without undermining all those other activities that are very important to the community and local businesses.” – AFP

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Neil Sands
Neil Sands
Neil Sands is a journalist with AFP.
Advertising

Two dead in new ANC KwaZulu-Natal killings

A Mtubatuba councillor and a Hammarsdale ANC Youth League leader were shot yesterday near their homes

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it
Advertising

Press Releases

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations