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Spat Farm consent by WRC unjustified

By Helen Vivian

This is an extract from a complaint to the Ombudsman due to the granting of a Resource Consent for a Spat Farm in Mercury Bay - a 30 ha spat farm with 26,000 metres of permanent backbone ropes, 132 sheet anchors drilled up to 9 metres into the seabed, 800 buoys and potentially up to 700,000 metres of catching lines on which microscopic spat may ongrow for several months to juvenile mussels of up to 20 mm.

The structure is bordered by one to three metre pillars holding 10 flashing yellow or white lights visible from 7.4 kilometres away. This proposed spat farm is 1.6 km offshore in Mercury Bay, on the east coast of the Coromandel in an area where aquaculture was prohibited.

Incredibly, the WRC maintains that this is not a marine farm, but simply “buoys and lines for spat collection purposes, ”allowed in Rule 16.1.5 as a discretionary activity. (Please refer to last week’s The Informer, ‘When is a Marine farm not a marine farm?’)


The WRC ignored its own regulations and the Resource Management Act. It did not adhere to its own Resolution passed at full Council only a few months earlier which said that the identification of future marine farm zones was a topic to be addressed through the Regional Plan Review and that community discussion should include an option to maintain the status quo. Council staff had not implemented the decision of their elected WRC members.

It classified spat catching as a Discretionary Activity in this area based on an astonishingly broad interpretation of one Rule in the current Coastal Plan. It allowed the Resource Consent Application to proceed despite a serious lack of detail and it allowed Applicants to add new details throughout the processes of a Hearing before WRC appointed Commissioners and a subsequent Environment Court Hearing. This greatly disadvantaged opponents to the RCA because they did not have information or time to formulate detailed arguments

Its’ S42a Report was selective in the information it provided, at almost every point, unfairly slanting towards the Applicants and taking little account of the 197 Submitters who opposed the Application or their expert advisers. How does 197 against the RCA compare to four who were in support of the RCA? Independent advice or peer reviews sought, from Boffa Miskell* for instance, were largely ignored or unmentioned in the Report if they did not accord with the Applicants’ position – and they often did not.

· Boffa Miskell is a firm of multi-disciplinary teams enhancing the value and sustainability of our natural, built and social environment.

Those submitting against the Application had little chance of success because, unbeknown to them, Council was already committing to a plan which included the opening up of the Eastern Coromandel to aquaculture, where it was a prohibited activity.

It would have been an embarrassment for RCA to have been refused for the 30 ha marine farm area in Mercury Bay identified in the Sea Change Plan which it was intending to ratify.

All of this subterfuge meant that we continued to spend a large amount of money on lawyers and experts (more than $200,000 up to the Hearing and more than $400,000 including taking the appeal to the Environment Court) when, had we known all the facts, we would have realised that it would be foolish to spend that amount with little chance of success.

It is unfair to the people of the region that public consultation around the Coastal Plan Review is being conducted so ineffectively and that facts are not being supplied to enable informed decisions about the future of this magnificent coastline.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE (RCA - Resource Consent Application)

A. Another RCA, correct in every detail, should be lodged for this proposal.

B. This should not be lodged until, when and if marine farming in this area is no longer a prohibited activity. To maintain that a 30 hectare permanent structure spat farm, where juvenile mussels are allowed to grow for up to 8 weeks is not a “marine farm” is patently ridiculous. It is referred to as a ‘marine farm’ frequently throughout documentation accompanying the original RCA.

C. The WRC should be censured for the way in which they have handled this RCA.

D. The proposed spat catching activity is not successful it should be ensured that the structure including backbone lines, buoys and screw anchors be removed as per (xiii) in the Standards and Terms for Rule 16.5.1 of the Coastal Plan. The structure should not be allowed to be converted to a mussel farm (which uses almost identical structure but has even greater effects on the environment) without a full new RCA.

E. Financial compensation should be paid to the opposing submitters who would not have made such a large financial outlay had they been fully aware of all the ever-changing details of the RCA and the WRC’s already entrenched position.

F. The public should be informed and consulted about the ramifications of this RCA – ie that it would be allowing marine farming in an area where it is now a prohibited activity. if the Sea Change Plan is to be “embedded” in the Coastal Plan review, then that should be spelt out and described clearly in broad public consultation.

G. Public consultation around the Coastal Plan Review should be made easier to engage in, and clear and correct up to date information should be made public. It is claimed that there has already been broad public consultation on the Sea Change Plan. Hardly! A report should be made publicly available detailing when this public consultation took place, where, with how many people, how their feedback was recorded and exactly what information was given to the public to make it a consultation.

NEXT ISSUE - WHAT CAN BE DONE specifically to detain the Resource Consent enactment

Meanwhile this spat farm has attracted a lot of attention - a left of field solution is offered. Please see page 23 )


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