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Environment matters - Fin fish farming - do we want it?

By Adrienne Cole-Ewen.

We should all be well aware by now that intensive farming of any kind upsets the natural dynamics of nature.

FinFish Farming is well documented - despite claims made in ‘Guidelines in N.Z.’ by Mat Bartholomew, Director of Fishing - that this is a new industry with few guidelines to follow. Today, I am focusing on what is proposed, and what is already happening, with Finfish farming in New Zealand. Next week I will follow up with the latest scientific evidence of the both frightening, and very sad, impact of Finfish farming elsewhere in the world.

Where are the past records of success?

In 2016, Salmon (Finfish) farming in the Marlborough Sounds failed to meet environmental guidelines because of - Pollution under pens and seabed enrichment, caused by fish waste, uneaten highly processed food, and uneaten antibiotics falling on the seabed. Tonnes of antibiotics have to be fed to keep the fish alive in this unnatural environment. They suffer badly from lice and are severely stressed by the closely packed environment in which they are forced to live. Any animals (and I include humans) forced to live in severely overcrowded situations are subject to disease, infection, and mental health issues. To date, internationally, no fully successful remedy has been found to eliminate these issues from Finfish farming.

When it was suggested that all Finfish farms should be moved to high flow areas such as the Tory Channel, it was stated that, “Shifting farms to the Tory Channel would only serve to spread the problem over a bigger area. If this was a land-based operation it would be called overstocking. We call it ‘running hot’. When the enrichment gets too high, it fouls the environment. Effectively, there are too many animals on each site. If this was a dairy farm, it would be shut down”.

Open Ocean Aquaculture (OOA) is defined in NZ as, “Aquaculture outside of semi-enclosed bays and harbours or other sheltered locations around mainland N Z.” Only open ocean environments will be targeted for Finfish farming. How is it possible to relate the Firth of Thames environment to the ‘open ocean’ described above? They are breaking the rules before they have even started.

Intensive marine farming, including that of our wild and beautiful Kingfish, is all about money and greed for an entitled few who feel free to take hundreds of hectares of our Hauraki Gulf for their own commercial gain. This impacts mightily on our Orca, dolphins, seabirds, and all other flora and fauna which would normally be found in the Gulf if it were just left alone to regenerate and repair to its natural state. What is being proposed by Pare Hauraki is moving towards the final nail in the coffin in terms of halting regeneration and repair of the Hauraki Gulf. Worst case scenario would be the consent being sold on to the highest bidder - a company with no cultural or historical relationship whatsoever to our Hauraki Gulf waters. Not one of the companies operating in this type of marine farming in this area has a good track record, and I can find no documentation of any protection having been put in place to prevent this happening. I have voiced my concerns before with regard to informed decisions of our elected Waikato Regional Councillors being overridden by ‘Independent Commissioners’. We invest time and energy electing people to WRC whom we believe we can trust to fight for our interests and beliefs and do the best they can to protect our environment. Warren Maher’s concerns are valid and to be commended – a voice of reason against what we all see as putting economic desires ahead of an already stressed marine environment.

It is patently obvious that ‘Independent Commissioners’ can be anything but ‘independent’.

I note that in TCDC’s introduction to the District Plan, they state that, “Maori culture and tradition provide significant living and evolving contribution to the quality of the district and coastal environment”

Please explain exactly what quality is being brought to our coastal environment with the commitment to bring intensive marine farming, including a massive Finfish farm, to an already seriously compromised and endangered environment? Further, this document introducing us to the District Plan states that they would very much appreciate the opportunity to “work together to develop contacts, processes and procedures”. To date, we have been shut down, ignored, and our submissions arbitrarily overruled in favour of anything and everything of Maori business interests.

I speak in favour of, “until appropriate regulatory, consultation and participation processes are in place” that issues like the Resource Consents for marine farming in the fragile environment of our Hauraki Gulf be put on hold. Council and applicants (regarding establishing the Finfish Farm) must recognise the values of the New Zealand peoples in all aspects of the Resource Management process.

Not all Maori are in favour of the current situation. This intensive marine farming is the initiative of Pare Hauraki and not necessarily the focus of many of our local Maori who care deeply for Mercury Bay and the Hauraki Gulf. Their assistance and spiritual support as we stand together for the future of Mercury Bay and surrounds, has been rewarding and uplifting. We stand together in the belief that there is a fulfilling and beneficial future for us all, working together, as people of New Zealand. This is a time for change - and we all need to be open to working towards a prosperous and mutually beneficial partnership.

The Future:

So - will our Hauraki Gulf of the future become known as - “Once the most magnificent harbour in the world, sadly mismanaged and destroyed by a total lack of sustainable management - overfishing with dredging and low line trawling, (methods banned elsewhere in the world but supported by N.Z. Fisheries), and polluted and decimated by over-commitment to marine farming?”

Or, will we be standing together, and consulting together, to find a workable way forward that both protects our environment and creates a sustainable marine farming option?

Let us not forget that sustainable tourism is the safest and best money earner for the Coromandel Peninsula. We offer natures pristine scenic beauty, natures bounty on the table, the best local coffee, the best people - Whitianga could be the Maori Cultural centre of the peninsula, if not the North Island, with Ngati Hei leading the way. This region could be a World Heritage Site with some hard work and commitment to sustaining the beauty and developing our natural resources.

Note: My thanks to Geoff Robinson and Warren Maher for their insight into the undeniable environmental issues of caged Finfish. (The Informer issue 1065 - 1 August, 2023).

Caption: Paul Kington's 'Bird Roost', Otama Reserve.

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