Monday, 19 August 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Mussel spat farm proposed in Mercury Bay

Well-known Coromandel aquaculture industry businessman, Peter Bull, and Joe Davis, on behalf of Ngati Hei, lodged on 20 February last year a resource consent application with Waikato Regional Council to develop a mussel spat farm in Mercury Bay approximately 1.6km from the coast between Whauwhau Beach and Matapaua Bay.

The application was publicly notified on 17 April this year. The submissions period closed on Friday last week.

Spat farming involves baby mussels (spat) attaching themselves to rope on frames which are secured underwater.

The proposed spat farm would span 30ha and would be the first large scale commercial aquaculture operation on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Joe Davis says the farm would be Ngati Hei’s first foray into the aquaculture industry and would benefit the Coromandel environmentally and economically. “Mussel spat farms suffer an escape rate of 15 per cent, so the number of mussels in Mercury Bay would likely rise,” he says. “While the farm itself would only create three to five jobs initially, it would secure a more sustainable supply of spat to the mussel farms in the Hauraki Gulf. Those farms are at the moment dependent on spat collected from Ninety Mile Beach, which have a high mortality rate. Whitianga would benefit from our proposed spat farm through the large OPC mussel processing facility in the town.”  

“As the farm would be quite a distance from the shore, there would not be any form of visual impairment and the way technology is moving forward, most of the farm might well be completely under water for most of the time.

“Ultimately, Ngati Hei feel this is a venture that would incorporate culture, science and engineering and this is what appeals to us.”

There is resistance to the proposed farm. Andrew Barber, a spokesperson for Whauwhau Environmental Group Limited, says the area between Whauwhau Beach and Matapaua Bay is classed as having “outstanding natural features and landscapes” and “outstanding natural character” in the Thames-Coromandel District Plan. “To allow something in the water that would take away from the protections of the adjacent land would not make sense,” he says. “The ocean needs to be given the same protection as the land.”

Andrew is furthermore of the opinion that the farm might stop orcas from coming into Mercury Bay. “Orcas feed on eagle rays which would find shelter in and under the spat farm,” he says. “There is a chance the orcas could get tangled in the ropes and frames of the farm. Once they realise this, we might not see them in the area anymore.

“I also wonder if any research has been done on the impact of spat farms on the ecology in general?”

The Thames-Coromandel constituency representative on WRC, Councillor Dal Minogue, says the location of the proposed spat farm is in an area identified for potential mussel and finfish farming in the Sea Change Marine Spatial Plan. “The area [of the farm] is about to be considered for [aquaculture] uses in WRC’s review of their Coastal Plan,” he says. “The review [of the Coastal Plan] has just begun and community engagement is soon to occur, which will look at the suitability of [the spat farm] location and two other sites on the eastern seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula for aquaculture activities. My feeling is that it would have been best to have considered the location [of the proposed farm] as part of that review, which would have cast a strategic eye over future spatial development of aquaculture on the eastern seaboard [of the Coromandel] as a whole, along with community concerns about that. But please note that a spat farm is not a mussel farm.

“Regardless, it is the legal right of any person or group to apply for resource consent for [a spat farm] or any other activity before the review process and have it considered under the current Coastal Plan rules. As such, the resource consent application [for the proposed spat farm] was accepted and will be assessed as a discretionary activity. While this activity status does allow WRC to approve or reject the application, a decision one way or another will mainly depend on whether the environmental effects of the activity are considered to be ‘more or less than minor.’ 

“Mussel spat farming has a benign effect on the receiving environment, the coastal waters, so the environmental effects of [a spat farm in Mercury Bay] in that sense will almost certainly be considered to be ‘less than minor.’ However, the environmental effects also need to be considered against other factors such as landscape and natural character values and the spatial impact of the activity on other marine life. The argument about these things will depend on the material put forward in public submissions and the degree of community concern expressed.

“I am happy and satisfied that the application has been dealt with in a fully transparent way by WRC as it has been fully notified and was open to all and any public submissions.”  

Wendy Valois, WRC’s communications adviser, says if anyone who made a written submission on the resource consent application for the spat farm requests to be heard, a hearing will take place. “It will then be the responsibility of the hearings committee to consider the application, supporting evidence and submissions, and then decide whether to grant the application,” she says.

“An assessment of the environmental effects [of the spat farm] will be completed [now that the submission period has closed]. An assessment of the effects [of the farm] on marine mammals is included with the resource consent application and WRC will [also] complete a review of that assessment.”

More than 120 submissions were received on the resource consent application.

Pictured: A map indicating where the proposed 30ha spat farm in Mercury Bay will be established.

LATEST WEEKLY ISSUE

ONLINE POLL

Should Waikato DHB fund the provision of some public healthcare services in a new multi-service medical facility in Whitianga?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.