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Published: 2008-02-28 00:00:00

An Environment Waikato hearing committee has approved resource consents for an extension to the Dockery marine farm in Aotea harbour.

However the project still needs approval from the Ministry of Fisheries before it can go ahead.

The existing farm, which was established in the late 1970s, is currently used to catch mussel spat (juvenile mussels measuring less than 3mm in length). These tiny mussels float through the sea and are caught on dropper lines suspended in the water and moored to the sea bed. The mussels attach to the lines and usually grow to 4-5mm before being sold to other New Zealand marine farms for on-growing.

Environment Waikato’s hearing committee considered the farm extension proposal at a hearing in Kawhia on January 30.

It considered evidence relating to a range of matters, such as the proposal’s impact on the area’s natural character and amenity values, iwi concerns, marine ecology and conservation values and navigation safety issues.

After careful consideration of all the evidence, the committee determined any actual or potential adverse environmental effects could be adequately avoided, remedied or mitigated, as long as recommended consent conditions were followed.

“Given the specific location of the proposed spat catching extension adjacent to the existing mussel farm we consider that the impact on the overall level of natural character of the area will be no more than minor when assessed against the permitted baseline,” the committee said.

“In terms of effect on amenity values the proposed spat farm in our view will be appropriately sited so as not to conflict with recreation use of the harbour and public access to the beach area.”

The committee imposed a specific condition that the mussel spat can only be held to a maximum size of 40mm in length before harvesting. This was done to safeguard the ecology of the harbour, as phytoplankton, which the mussels feed on, is a limited resource at Aotea.

The applicant, RA and JM Dockery, will also be required to carrying out environmental monitoring to ensure the ecology of the harbour is not being adversely affected.

Although the Environment Waikato committee has approved consents for matters under its jurisdiction – the erection, use and occupation of structures associated with the farm – the Ministry of Fisheries must consider potential impacts on local fishing resources before the farm extension can go ahead.