By Geoffrey Robinson
Controversial plans for commercial farming of yellowtail kingfish in cages off the Coromandel Coast are still alive. But hearings on the new venture remain on hold, as Waikato Regional Council awaits answers and information it requested nearly a year and a half ago.
Pare Hauraki Kaimoana, a wholly owned asset holding company of the Hauraki Māori Trust Board and Pare Hauraki Fishing Trust, proposes to produce up to 8,000 tonnes of fish annually in the newly established 300ha Coromandel Marine Farming Zone (CMFZ) between Coromandel Town and Waiheke Island in waters of the Inner Hauraki Gulf.
Application for resource consents to establish the industrial scale aquaculture operation were filed with Waikato Regional Council (WRC) by Pare Hauraki in December 2020.The application followed more than a decade of work by government and WRC to diversify aquaculture and jumpstart a new industry that proponents claimed could attain hundreds of millions in annual export sales and hundreds of new jobs. Pare Hauraki’s successful tender for the aquaculture zone was announced in late 2018.
As proposed, kingfish production would involve a network of 36 massive floating plastic pens, each measuring 53m in diameter and extending 20m toward the seabed, packed with thousands of kingfish at specific stages of growth. Farm development would proceed from 50 percent to full production over several years. At full capacity, 12,000 tonnes of fish feed pellets would be pumped into the cages each year to take selectively bred hatchery fingerlings up to 3kg-4kg slaughter weight in 18 months, when they would be lifted, stunned, and bled out on site.The large fish cages would be tended by up to six moored 40m barges for feed and equipment storage and transfer of materials and crew.The proposal includes limited culture of mussels, sea cucumbers, kelp, sponges, algae, and seaweed.
Along with its fish farm consent, Pare Hauraki is also seeking a private plan change to the Waikato Regional Coastal Plan that would allow the company to place its anchoring structures outside the boundaries of the CMFZ, effectively expanding its potential operational area by over 37 percent. Unlike this Pare Hauraki request, a private plan change usually offers a substantial public benefit as an offset.
Submitters opposed to the caged kingfish proposal and private coastal plan change applications include Royal Forest and Bird, the Whitianga and Coromandel Peninsula Commercial Fishers Association, Environmental Defense Society, Protect Our Gulf, Auckland Yacht and Boating Association, and Whitianga Conservation, among others.
Opponents cite a broad range of known and potential risks and adverse effects of fed finfish aquaculture in the marine environment. Damage to seabed ecosystems and resulting “dead zones” due to deposition of uneaten food and faeces are well documented and a given, as is chemical contamination from commonly used anti-foulants, cleaning agents, antibiotics, antiparasitics, and anaesthetics.
Further risks identified by both submitters and the regional council itself, include spread of disease to wild fish stocks; genetic transfer from escaped fish to wild; spread of invasive pests to the coastal environment; strike damage and entanglement of marine mammals; and hazards to navigation.
WRC staff scientists have noted that some adverse consequences could extend well beyond the Waikato Region and, worst of all, could be irreversible.
Following receipt of the Pare Hauraki application, WRC contracted over a dozen topic-specific peer review reports by outside experts. Those reports identified concerns including bioaccumulation of contaminants; parasites and disease; genetics; seabed effects from chemicals, organic matter, and metals; ecosystem modelling; animal husbandry; effects on marine mammals and seabirds; hydrology and water quality; and natural amenities impacts.The peer review reports resulted in a list of 118 specific requests for further information from the seafood company. Those requests were sent on 30 July 2021. On November 30, WRC confirmed it had still not received all the information it requested 16 months earlier. Dates for hearings remain on hold pending receipt and processing of all information from Pare Hauraki, but the council has indicated that hearings in late first quarter of the new year remain a possibility.
The peer review reports have not been made public by WRC. The applications, submissions, and WRC’s request, however, are available online at <waikatoregion.govt.nz/parehauraki>