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Talking business

by Anthony Haas

 

Blue cod farming options for Pelorus


January 7, 2009

Blenheim based fisheries biologist Graeme Coates favours marine farming of blue cod in Pelorus Sound.

He says blue cod fish farming may be anathema to some. But he supports the idea.

The Talking business column sought comment on local implications for the “enormous” potential of fisheries claimed in the Ministry of Fisheries briefing to incoming minister (BIM) Phil Heatley.

The fisheries BIM says “World demand for seafood is predicted to increase by at least 40 million tonnes by 2030, providing enormous opportunities for New Zealand wild capture fisheries and the aquaculture sector.”

Mussels and blue cod naturally grow in the Pelorus water temperatures, and lend themselves to farming. Low run off from coastal land keeps the water for mussels relatively clean, or, what many call, “pristine” water.

Mussels, a Pelorus aquaculture industry developed over a generation, tops the annual list of New Zealand fisheries exports at $NZ175 million.

Graeme Coates, executive director of the Marine Farming Association and internationally experienced consultant says “why not develop blue cod populations using fish farming technology”.

There is no reason why we in the Marlborough region should close our minds to enhancing the blue cod population through hatchery programmes, onshore tank facilities, eventual release and recapture programmes he says.

“In addition this could be used for put and take fisheries or/and in conjunction with artificial reefs”

Blue cod would need release on reefs or other rocky structures.

“By using enhanced aquaculture and fishery techniques the wild populations of cod could be left unfished to recover” he says.

Recent fishing law requires fishers to take fish over a certain size, and the last Minister of Fisheries imposed a four year blue cod fishing ban.

Large blue cod are generally males and are the most prolific breeders. These fish are the top spawners. Enhanced or put and take caught fish could be landed at a smaller size, “or better still ban the catching of large cod” he says.

Graeme Coates suggests two options.

One is to make the artificial reef the place where you catch cod, and then leave the wild reefs alone.

Another is to make the artificial reef exclusive, like Long Island Marine Reserve in Queen Charlotte Sound. There the wild reefs are fishing zones.

Graeme Coates says the recreational fishers of Marlborough should look at marine farming techniques as one of their tools.

“The Japanese use such tools. Compare Anatoki Salmon in Takaka. There, people throw in a rod, catch a salmon, cook or smoke it, and can take it home. They love it” he says.

His big picture for commercially viable marine farming development for NZ includes
• Mussels, salmon and paua in the Marlborough Sounds
• Oysters and perhaps kingfish and groper up north
• Oysters and salmon in Southland Strait

Does Marlborough actually want to develop such aquaculture options?

Considerations include the attitude of existing marine farmers, including the 40% who are Maori, and their view of public attitudes, and the limits to growth under current rules.

Corporates, an estimated 55% of participants in the industry, might chose to apply experience gained in Pelorus to other locations.

Marlborough’s inshore marine farming regulations were originally driven by the Harbours Act. Mussel lines are 50-100 metres offshore in places compatible with marine vessels. Tasman Bay’s marine farming developments – about 3 km offshore – are driven by the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Short term challenges are preventing much aquaculture development.

The Minister of Fisheries and Nick Smith the Minister for the Environment are due to report back to Cabinet in February 2009 with an evaluation of options to improve the aquaculture law. This may include options involving relatively major legislative change.

The full process for aquaculture has many steps, more than any other activity under the RMA, and the approval process is long and costly.

To date, almost four years after enactment of the new aquaculture law, no new Aquaculture Management Areas (AMAs) have been created.

In their BIM Ministry of Fisheries say “as we try to implement the reforms it is becoming apparent that the law may have been over engineered and the cost, time and uncertainty of the process to develop new AMAs are constraining future aquaculture growth, which could prevent the industry from achieving its $1 billion goal by 2025.”

ahaas@decisionmaker.co.nz

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