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Farmed smoked salmon

We need a game plan for aquaculture

Farmed smoked salmonThe Government plans to turn aquaculture into a $1 billion industry. This is a noble goal, but there are only a few places suitable for intensive aquaculture in New Zealand.

One is the Marlborough Sounds, where locals are embroiled in a spat over increasing the space for King Salmon farms.

The Government called in its new environmental watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to sort it out and submissions are due today.

Is this spat just the usual “not in my backyard” group versus big business, or something more serious? There are critical issues with how we allocate marine space and this is coming to the fore in places like the Marlborough Sounds sooner than elsewhere.

We all need to take heed, because eventually it will happen in our own backyard. The EPA decision in Marlborough is potentially a huge precedent, particularly if it over-rules the wishes of the local council.

On land, the way we plan is fairly straightforward. The government makes sure we have some parks and sets some environmental standards (if it is doing its job), then the market more or less sorts out the best way to use the land through the owners trading among themselves.

In the ocean, all this is turned on its head. The ocean is a “commons”, so no- one owns it. Companies have an incentive to claim as much of it as possible, in the hope that it eventually becomes their property, while members of the public oppose everything as a matter of course, because it curtails their rights to use the ocean for recreation and fishing.

Meanwhile, any thought of reserves or environmental protection languishes in the middle, caught as the leftovers between an adversarial process.

This is hopeless – the way we manage our ocean is flawed and this type of mindless combat turns up time and time again as the way we allocate these resources. The policymakers should be shot.

To make its decision, the EPA will weigh up whether the economic benefits of the lease are worth the potential environmental damage. It won’t look beyond that narrow tradeoff.

Let’s look at each of these in turn

 

Economic issues

The economic case the New Zealand King Salmon claim is built on is characteristically speculative. The simple economic models used to play this game tend to overvalue the economic benefits of new activity, just as they did for last year’s Rugby World Cup. The analysis also overlooks the issue of where the profits go: in this case at least 51 per cent to overseas owners.

There are also questions about whether the company can viably continue its growth. People tend to assume fish farming is sustainable, but salmon farming is different in that it is hamstrung by the issue of feed.

Unlike cattle on land, salmon are carnivores and naturally predate on other fish. The aquaculture industry has trumpeted reducing the fish content of their feed by swapping fish for other proteins, such as soy.

However, salmon still need to eat fish oil to get their much-vaunted high levels of omega-3. King salmon still need to eat the equivalent of the oil from 2.7 kilograms of fish for every one kilogram they grow.

Farmers might be able to reduce the use of fish oil, but if they did there would be little to separate farmed salmon from chicken. Until that point, they are competing with the omega-3 and fish-oil industries for this oil, and there is only a limited supply. This is a major handbrake on growth and has led to environmentalists questioning whether salmon farming is just making the world’s fish- supply problem worse.

 

Environmental Issues

ON THE other side of the ledger, the environmental impact of salmon farming is less difficult to quantify.

Mussel farms have copped flak for taking up space, but their impact on the environment is actually benign.

Salmon farms take up less space, but add a lot of nutrients to the water from effluent and feed.

Intensive salmon farming overseas has caused all sorts of problems, with pollution and disease outbreaks that have devastated native and, occasionally, farmed-fish populations, wrecked the pristine fiords they are based in and forced the salmon farmers to turn to using pesticides. Chile and Norway have had these issues.

New Zealand salmon farms seem to have avoided these problems so far. The Cawthron Institute has been monitoring the impact of farming up to now. The farms seem to be managed cautiously, and the areas adversely affected by the current operations seem to be small.

However, the impact of the farms on the wider environment is difficult to determine because the ocean is so dynamic and we know so little. Opponents claim each farm will create the same amount of effluent as 50,000 people. Are they right? If so, will this be enough to tip the ecology of the Sounds into a downward spiral?

Could farming damage fishing and recreation, and even lead to harmful algal blooms? Probably not, says the Cawthron Institute, but it is hard to be sure.

Many fish in one salmon farm were killed by a recent algal bloom. Was the farm the cause of its own demise?

We need to know what the damage from farming would be to see whether that is enough to be compensated by the economic benefits.

Both sides are fuzzy. The inherent biases in the system are likely to lead to the EPA granting more space for farms than is optimal.

The solutions to this are simple, but require a different way of thinking about the ocean.

To begin with, if there really is an economic benefit from salmon farming, then they should pay rates – substantial ones, just like land users. These rates should be used to finance the council to set standards for environmental management, just as they do on land.

We also need to sort out how to use ocean space, just as we have done on land. We need to zone the coastal ocean, starting with the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds. This process, called integrated marine spatial planning, is now commonplace overseas, but has not been picked up in New Zealand. By comparison, we are quite backward.

All ocean users need to agree to set some areas of the ocean aside for industrial use (like ports), others for aquaculture, commercial fishing, energy generation, recreation and marine reserves.

Then different users can trade, just as they do on land, to ensure the ocean is being used in the best possible way.

One reason the Government is too scared to do this is probably because Maori will want their share. They no doubt will, but that shouldn’t be reason for prolonging the current arbitrary and environmentally adverse regime.

Many people don’t like marine planning, as it will force them to face the reality that they no longer have the whole ocean as their personal playground. This is short-sighted – the alternative is that marine space will be slowly picked off by piecemeal processes similar to this one that NZ King Salmon is sponsoring and we will end up with something worse.

As always, the biggest loser will be the environment. Marine reserves are expensive to establish and the public rarely champions the issue because it has little to gain personally. Marine reserves are a public good and the Government has completely shirked its responsibility to provide in this area.

The EPA is on a hiding to nothing, simply because the process it has been put in charge of is flawed.

  • AkioTakahashi79

    @garethmorgannz NZ is surrounded by water, what’s your worry?

  • AkioTakahashi79

    @garethmorgannz NZ is surrounded by water, what’s your worry?

  • http://localbodies-bsprout.blogspot.co.nz/ Dave Kennedy

    Excellent post, Gareth, we stuffed up the management of dairy intensification, with heavy environmental consequences, and we need to tread carefully here. 

  • http://localbodies-bsprout.blogspot.co.nz/ Dave Kennedy

    Excellent post, Gareth, we stuffed up the management of dairy intensification, with heavy environmental consequences, and we need to tread carefully here. 

  • http://www.unattachednz.com unattachednz

    PA v locla government decision making. Mmm. RMA was amended to provide for this to occur. People can opt to go straight to EPA. Aquaculture management areas (AMA) were also mooted some time ago. If I recall this was the game plan. What happened? Got bogged down in climate change, fishing industry, MARPOL, rights of owners of coastal spaces, treaty settlements, oceans policy, so where are we? Nowhere. Fear you point out Gareth – EPA decisions will be a precedent & apply nation-wide. Hard to overturn national policy except on point of law. Shuts out most communities to appeal: needs lots of capital & hard-nosed ability to argue & to persuade HC to overturn on points of law. Most coastal policy statements are silent on ‘policy’ to deal with major national impacts like this. Jig-saw planning.

  • http://www.unattachednz.com unattachednz

    PA v locla government decision making. Mmm. RMA was amended to provide for this to occur. People can opt to go straight to EPA. Aquaculture management areas (AMA) were also mooted some time ago. If I recall this was the game plan. What happened? Got bogged down in climate change, fishing industry, MARPOL, rights of owners of coastal spaces, treaty settlements, oceans policy, so where are we? Nowhere. Fear you point out Gareth – EPA decisions will be a precedent & apply nation-wide. Hard to overturn national policy except on point of law. Shuts out most communities to appeal: needs lots of capital & hard-nosed ability to argue & to persuade HC to overturn on points of law. Most coastal policy statements are silent on ‘policy’ to deal with major national impacts like this. Jig-saw planning.

  • Sylvia Kaa

    Game plan for aquaculture – Yes. Offshore investors are profiting now, why not us? We need to find solutions for some negative aspects, impacts on the enviroment. – Bird farming, too we need to have healthy bush for that.

  • Sylvia Kaa

    Birds like kereru and weka.

  • Sylvia Kaa

    Game plan for aquaculture – Yes. Offshore investors are profiting now, why not us? We need to find solutions for some negative aspects, impacts on the enviroment. – Bird farming, too we need to have healthy bush for that.

  • Sylvia Kaa

    Birds like kereru and weka.

  • Sherryl Hanna

    As a person who lives in the beautiful Queen Charlotte of the Marlbrough Sounds i don’t want fish farms in my backyard this isn’t a “not in my backyard syndrome’ these operations are 24 hours, have lighting going all night, pollution from left over feed that drifts to the bottom some washing up on shore line you can hear the farms all the time. not pleasant to look at if in your front yard. we here in the sounds have a Blue Cod ban and then sometimes of the year can catch 2 each per day introduction of more farms equals more Seals they need to eat outcome less fish the farm at Ruakaka Bay has plenty of seals for the tourist to view apart from this foreign owned money and fish leave the country. have you seen the price of salmon !!

  • Sherryl Hanna

    As a person who lives in the beautiful Queen Charlotte of the Marlbrough Sounds i don’t want fish farms in my backyard this isn’t a “not in my backyard syndrome’ these operations are 24 hours, have lighting going all night, pollution from left over feed that drifts to the bottom some washing up on shore line you can hear the farms all the time. not pleasant to look at if in your front yard. we here in the sounds have a Blue Cod ban and then sometimes of the year can catch 2 each per day introduction of more farms equals more Seals they need to eat outcome less fish the farm at Ruakaka Bay has plenty of seals for the tourist to view apart from this foreign owned money and fish leave the country. have you seen the price of salmon !!

  • Polly Nash

    Isn’t the ocean a big enough fish farm for them?

  • Neil McCormick

    Have a question – what happens to all the fish shit that is concentrated into that small area? We had to clean out our fish tank every week when I was a child……

  • Polly Nash

    Isn’t the ocean a big enough fish farm for them?

  • Neil McCormick

    Have a question – what happens to all the fish shit that is concentrated into that small area? We had to clean out our fish tank every week when I was a child……

  • Kantilal Patel Qsm Jp

    Fish farm ?

  • Chris Webster

    will it lead to more foreign investment similar to that of king salmon which is costing the local people hundreds thousands in court/ legal fees to protect their waters/resources from what is happening..

  • Kantilal Patel Qsm Jp

    Fish farm ?

  • Chris Webster

    will it lead to more foreign investment similar to that of king salmon which is costing the local people hundreds thousands in court/ legal fees to protect their waters/resources from what is happening..

  • Maria Sawtell

    I would much rather buy farmed fish (wherever possible) as I know it’s been caught ethically and, hopefully, more enviormentally friendly than fish caught other ways. I mean how can you really gaurantee what happens out on the open ocean? It’s easier to monitor fish farms, or any type of farm for that matter, as it is at a ‘fixed’ place.

  • Chris Webster

    EPA v locla government decision making. Mmm. RMA was amended to provide for this to occur. People can opt to go straight to EPA. Aquaculture management areas (AMA) were also mooted some time ago. If I recall this was the game plan. What happened? Got bogged down in climate change, fishing industry, MARPOL, rights of owners of coastal spaces, treaty settlements, oceans policy, so where are we? Nowhere. Fear you point out Gareth – EPA decisions will be a precedent & apply nation-wide. Hard to overturn national policy except on point of law. Shuts out most communities to appeal: needs lots of capital & hard-nosed ability to argue & to persuade HC to overturn on points of law. Most coastal policy statements are silent on ‘policy’ to deal with major national impacts like this. Jig-saw planning.

  • Maria Sawtell

    I would much rather buy farmed fish (wherever possible) as I know it’s been caught ethically and, hopefully, more enviormentally friendly than fish caught other ways. I mean how can you really gaurantee what happens out on the open ocean? It’s easier to monitor fish farms, or any type of farm for that matter, as it is at a ‘fixed’ place.

  • Chris Webster

    EPA v locla government decision making. Mmm. RMA was amended to provide for this to occur. People can opt to go straight to EPA. Aquaculture management areas (AMA) were also mooted some time ago. If I recall this was the game plan. What happened? Got bogged down in climate change, fishing industry, MARPOL, rights of owners of coastal spaces, treaty settlements, oceans policy, so where are we? Nowhere. Fear you point out Gareth – EPA decisions will be a precedent & apply nation-wide. Hard to overturn national policy except on point of law. Shuts out most communities to appeal: needs lots of capital & hard-nosed ability to argue & to persuade HC to overturn on points of law. Most coastal policy statements are silent on ‘policy’ to deal with major national impacts like this. Jig-saw planning.

  • Helen Punton

    My understanding is that it takes 5 times the amount of wild fish, sardines/anchovies(?) to feed and to produce a kilo of farmed salmon, so it’s not really a great environmental coup at all.

  • Helen Punton

    My understanding is that it takes 5 times the amount of wild fish, sardines/anchovies(?) to feed and to produce a kilo of farmed salmon, so it’s not really a great environmental coup at all.

  • Seth Hickling

    Don’t get me wrong, I like eating Salmon too, but on the evidence of what I have heard and read and seen with my own eyes, salmon farming causes far greater long term damage to ecosystems than the short term gains of Salmon production.

    Wild fish, sustainably caught, is a much healthier option, both for us and for the ecosystems that we cherish and rely on.

    I would love to see more marine reserves established rather than farms. In reference to the Malborough Sounds, there is already a ban on catching Blue Cod within the Sounds but we need to go further and proactively support Blue Cod and other flora and fauna species native to the area to repopulate in good healthy balance.

  • Seth Hickling

    Don’t get me wrong, I like eating Salmon too, but on the evidence of what I have heard and read and seen with my own eyes, salmon farming causes far greater long term damage to ecosystems than the short term gains of Salmon production.

    Wild fish, sustainably caught, is a much healthier option, both for us and for the ecosystems that we cherish and rely on.

    I would love to see more marine reserves established rather than farms. In reference to the Malborough Sounds, there is already a ban on catching Blue Cod within the Sounds but we need to go further and proactively support Blue Cod and other flora and fauna species native to the area to repopulate in good healthy balance.

  • Ash Clarke

    WHY dont we look after the fish stock we have in the ocean instead of creating more problems with fishfarms

  • Ash Clarke

    WHY dont we look after the fish stock we have in the ocean instead of creating more problems with fishfarms

  • Anbarbara Duckett

    Where ever there is concentrated intensive fish farming, the local balance is upset. The Sounds are a nursery area for many fish species, intensive mussel and oyster farming filters out egg supply for those species at a greater than normal egg loss rate, reducing species survival each season. these are thee kinds of things that have to be thought about.

  • Anbarbara Duckett

    Where ever there is concentrated intensive fish farming, the local balance is upset. The Sounds are a nursery area for many fish species, intensive mussel and oyster farming filters out egg supply for those species at a greater than normal egg loss rate, reducing species survival each season. these are thee kinds of things that have to be thought about.

  • Hone Bear

    At the end of the day the issue is people having sex thus having children they grow up and have children and now the world is trying to feed over 7 Billion (and growing) people on a postage stamp. Reduce population because the world want grow with it…that I think is the answer then the world wont imprison flora fauna,birds and fish in cages which tastes like cardbord anyway compared to free species living their lives in abundance Vs the dollar…..

  • Hone Bear

    At the end of the day the issue is people having sex thus having children they grow up and have children and now the world is trying to feed over 7 Billion (and growing) people on a postage stamp. Reduce population because the world want grow with it…that I think is the answer then the world wont imprison flora fauna,birds and fish in cages which tastes like cardbord anyway compared to free species living their lives in abundance Vs the dollar…..

  • Michael Jacomb

    Hi Gareth could you advise all do you , your trusts or family own any shareholding in Pohutukawa ??.

  • Michael Jacomb

    Hi Gareth could you advise all do you , your trusts or family own any shareholding in Pohutukawa ??.

  • Corey Gardner

    what about putting in some research into multi level fish farms….the americans have worked out a way to have multi level farms…could that technology no be adapted?? i realise that short term it would have a high cost, but the long term benefits should balance out

  • Corey Gardner

    what about putting in some research into multi level fish farms….the americans have worked out a way to have multi level farms…could that technology no be adapted?? i realise that short term it would have a high cost, but the long term benefits should balance out

  • kattothyrst

    Please, we need an objective approach to this discussion; one based on fact. It is too easy for people to stand on soap box’s and give their opinion – and that is all it is their opinion.
     
    Don’t factor in other countries aquacultural  problems to the discussion on the New Zealand Salmon industry. Doing this is an irrelevancy. The history of the Salmon Industry in New Zealand has been one of careful development, administered by quite stringent controls.
     
    There has been enough misquided , subjective and inflammatory subterfuge (in other words lies!)  by so called environmentalists overseas against salmon farming – in similar fashion to a sector of the global warming debate – and this does nothing to assist in the development of a coherent, workable set of guidelines.
     
    Bottom line – New Zealand’s income base is not strongly diversified and being commodity based we need to rely on the effective use of our environmental resources to pay the bills. The use of the word effective here includes sustainability.
     
    Cheers,
     

  • kattothyrst

    Please, we need an objective approach to this discussion; one based on fact. It is too easy for people to stand on soap box’s and give their opinion – and that is all it is their opinion.
     
    Don’t factor in other countries aquacultural  problems to the discussion on the New Zealand Salmon industry. Doing this is an irrelevancy. The history of the Salmon Industry in New Zealand has been one of careful development, administered by quite stringent controls.
     
    There has been enough misquided , subjective and inflammatory subterfuge (in other words lies!)  by so called environmentalists overseas against salmon farming – in similar fashion to a sector of the global warming debate – and this does nothing to assist in the development of a coherent, workable set of guidelines.
     
    Bottom line – New Zealand’s income base is not strongly diversified and being commodity based we need to rely on the effective use of our environmental resources to pay the bills. The use of the word effective here includes sustainability.
     
    Cheers,
     

  • Chris Mycroft

    Going out and hunting for fish is similar, in my opinion, to going into the forest and hunting for cows and sheep.

  • Chris Mycroft

    Going out and hunting for fish is similar, in my opinion, to going into the forest and hunting for cows and sheep.