By Geoffrey Robinson
Last month’s hearings panel decision to allow faster development of caged kingfish farming in waters off Coromandel Town will not be appealed by Waikato Regional Council (WRC).
Conservation groups, including Forest and Bird, the Environmental Defense Society, and Protect Our Gulf among others opposed to the industrial-scale aquaculture development by Pare Hauraki Kaimoana (PHK), are also expected to forego any appeals effort.
While supporting the kingfish farm in general and recommending consent, WRC had sought a more precautionary development schedule than that proposed by PHK. The Council proposed development in four stages, with more gradual increases in total feed and resulting nitrogen pollution and a longer timeframe in which to monitor and assess adverse environmental impacts, known and unforeseen, on the already severely degraded Inner Gulf and Firth of Thames.
PHK pushed for an accelerated, three-stage buildout during the resource consent process, despite the company’s original tender for space in the new Coromandel Marine Farming Zone being predicated on four stages. Environmental groups, while opposed to the fish farm plan overall, were uniformly supportive at the April hearings of WRC efforts to moderate the pace of farm inputs and impacts.
Any appeal of the hearings panel decision in the Environment Court would rack up significant expense with limited chance of success, according to submitters. Despite giving considerable weight to economic considerations, the consent conditions appear to satisfy all requirements of the Resource Management Act (RMA) and other relevant policies and plans.
While it may be a few years until the massive 36-cage farming operation gets underway, if indeed it does, Coromandel residents, visitors and businesses will eventually be affected. When the floating cage arrays, buoys, and barges come on line, the farm will present a permanent, sprawling east-west navigational obstruction more than three kilometres wide across one of the main approaches to Coromandel Harbour from the north and northwest.
Additionally, in respect of the at-risk marine environment and ecosystems, independent expert opinion commissioned during the consent process cited the need to monitor water quality in and around Coromandel Harbour itself, in addition to the farming zone and immediately adjacent area, once farming operations ramp up. The extent of potential environmental impacts on local waters is, as of yet, unknown.
Formal council signoff on the consent conditions and approval of a private plan change to the Waikato coastal plan, requested by PHK to expand the farm’s footprint on the water, are expected later this month.
“..the floating cage arrays, buoys, and barges come on line, the farm will present a permanent, sprawling east-west navigational obstruction..”