By Geoffrey Robinson
Public hearings on plans for industrial-scale caged kingfish farming 13.5 km offshore from Coromandel Town have been scheduled by Waikato Regional Council to begin April 17-21.
Pare Hauraki Kaimoana, an asset holding company of the Hauraki Māori Trust Board and Pare Hauraki Fishing Trust, is seeking consent to produce up to 8,000 tonnes of fish annually in the newly established 300ha Coromandel Marine Farming Zone (CMFZ) in the Inner Hauraki Gulf. The company is also seeking a private change to the Waikato Region Coastal Plan that would allow it to increase the operational footprint of the proposed fish farm approximately 37 percent by permitting placement of its subsurface anchoring cables and seabed structures outside the specified borders of the CMFZ.
As proposed, the controversial kingfish farm would comprise up to 36 floating plastic pens, each measuring 53m in diameter internally and extending 20m toward the seabed in waters approximately 35m deep. Pens would each be stocked 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, an estimated 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 stunned, bled out, and chilled on site for transfer to land. The 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.
Application for resource consents to establish the caged kingfish operation were filed by Pare Hauraki in December 2020. The private coastal plan change was requested in November 2021 with submissions closing in early 2022.
The April hearings were delayed pending receipt of additional information from the company requested by WRC back in July 2021. The requests arose from a series of independent peer reviews of the consent application commissioned by WRC on a wide range of environmental and operational issues, including biosecurity risks, parasites and disease monitoring and response, genetic transfer to wild populations, water quality degradation, cumulative ecosystem effects from inputs, animal husbandry, risks to seabirds and marine mammals, and impacts on natural character and amenity values.
Pare Hauraki’s responses, like its original application, were packaged by the Auckland office of Mitchell Daysh, a resource management and planning consultancy that works nationwide on ports, aquaculture and coastal development, among other major industry sectors. While mostly expanding on opinions and assertions in the original application with some additional references and updated baseline data, the latest tranche of applicant materials includes a few details not highlighted or revealed previously.
The kingfish cage structures, when attached perimeter walkways are included, actually may exceed 56m in diameter and extend up to 4m in height. As for coastal landscape impact, while the farm would be located 13.5 km from the nearest township, it would actually be situated only 3km from Coromandel landforms classified as “Outstanding Natural Character” in the proposed district plan.
Extensive information has been provided on management and treatment options for various bacterial and viral outbreaks, as well as infestations of gill flukes, skin flukes, sea lice and various internal parasites. However, the applicant states that “environmental management goals for disease management are not proposed.” Pare Hauraki maintains that “such matters relate to the operation of the fish farm.” In response to questions on water quality and related ecosystem health, the applicant has responded that a revised environmental monitoring plan “is currently being prepared” and will be available “in due order.” The applicant states the feed source has not been finalised. It states a draft stocking plan will not be provided.
Lined up in support of the applications are the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), iwi fisheries advocacy Te Ohu Kaimoana, industry umbrella Aquaculture NZ, Hauraki Gulf Forum, Ngāti Maru Runanga, and Thames-Coromandel and Hauraki district councils.
Submitters opposed include Royal Forest and Bird, Environmental Defense Society, Protect Our Gulf (Waiheke), the Whitianga and Coromandel Peninsula Commercial Fishers Association, Auckland Yacht and Boating Association, and Whitianga Conservation, among others.
The applicant’s complete responses and supporting consultant documentation have been made publicly available on the regional council website at <waikatoregion.govt.nz/parehauraki> The combined public hearings will be held at the Paeroa and District War Memorial Hall, 144 Normandy Road, Paeroa.