Environment Waikato is gathering more information on the effects of marine farming on the coastal environment before a moratorium on new aquaculture activities expires next year.
This week’s Environment Committee meeting heard the Region was under increasing pressure from growing demand for marine farming space in the coastal marine area at a scale not anticipated when the Waikato Regional Coastal Plan was first developed. This included an application for twelve 48 ha blocks covering about 500 ha off Mercury Island and a total of about 6000 ha in the western Firth of Thames in the Auckland Region.
A two year moratorium was imposed by the Government in November last year while main reforms to aquaculture legislation were put in place, to give regional councils time to develop provisions for their Coastal Plans. The moratorium was intended to prevent a further rush of new marine farm applications which could pre-empt sensible and appropriate management.
Coastal ecologist Dr Stephanie Turner said this meant there was an increased need for robust scientific information, and close integration with Auckland Regional Council over the Hauraki Gulf, especially the Firth of Thames.
Environment Waikato had established a regional estuary monitoring programme which monitored animal communities and sediment characteristics of intertidal sand flats in the southern Firth of Thames. It also supported a research project characterising shorebird and sand flat animal communities at Miranda. It had commissioned a study to undertake numerical modelling which helped describe the behaviour of tide, wind and density-driven water circulation in the Firth of Thames.
An environmental monitoring programme had been developed for part of the Wilson’s Bay marine farming zone as part of the consent conditions. Environment Waikato is undertaking a study to identify “trigger points” for environmental variables being monitored around the marine farms. Future information would include areas where aquaculture may not be appropriate in the Waikato Region, and information on ecological sustainability.
Environment Waikato staff were also linked with a number of national initiatives where the Firth of Thames and Hauraki Gulf were being used as case studies, which would improve the Council’s ability to manage these areas, she said.
“The Waikato Region is a particularly desirable location for the aquaculture industry and marine farming is recognised as an important industry in the Region. We will need robust information to ensure that future marine farming is developed in an efficient and sustainable manner that avoids adverse effects on the coastal environment.”
Councillors were concerned that the public was paying for information that would normally be paid for by an industry in developing a consent application.
Chairman Neil Clarke asked how far the Council should go in providing the information to support applications. Resource Information Group Manager Tony Petch said the pressure was on.
“I don’t think the public should prove the whole answer. We should target preferred areas and additional information should be provided by applicants.”