The health of the oceans is under threat – but RMA reforms (Parker is working on them) should help troubled salmon farmers

More health announcements – concerning state support for farmers and growers affected by Covid-19 and “free” flu vaccinations – have flowed from the Beehive.

More ominously, Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker has drawn attention to the threat to the health of the oceans – and to fish stocks – posed by climate warming.

He didn’t announce anything in particular to counter this threat.  Rather, he mentioned measures he intends to take, such as overhauling the highly contentious Resource Management Act.

His statement was prompted by an announcement to the Stock Exchange by New Zealand King Salmon:  the warming of the sea has been killing the company ‘s salmon stocks enough to cause a significant downwards revision in earnings expectations.

The company has reduced its forecast earnings for the 2022 year by $4 to $5 million.  The higher salmon losses have been recorded most notably in the company’s Pelorus Sound operations.

Parker said this is a sharp reminder that resource management system reforms are needed to deliver better management for aquaculture.

“The company announced last week that warmer sea temperatures in Pelorus Sound in the Marlborough Sounds, likely brought on by climate change, were contributing to more salmon dying this year,” David Parker said.

“Our response to climate change is not something that can be delayed. Its effects are real and present for New Zealand companies, and the people who work for them.

“This situation also highlights that the Resource Management Act is not equipped to deal with these realities. Strategic planning to get ahead of these kind of matters hasn’t happened,” David Parker said.

Establishing small areas of new aquaculture space remains a drawn-out, difficult and litigious process, even after 20 years of efforts under the RMA to improve it, he said.

Some marine farms need to be better located but the system makes that very difficult.

Parker then spoke more in terms of what he aims to do rather than of what he has actually done:

“RMA reform will deliver a system that is more agile and better able to adapt to the realities of climate change.

“This includes a sustainable management regime for aquaculture so the sector can fulfill its potential, contribute to the economy and help communities prosper.

“The reforms we are putting in place will deliver a planning system that provides for growth in the sector, sets environmental standards that ensure sustainable practices, and delivers processes that enable adaptation to a changing environment.

“We will also ensure a fair return to New Zealanders through the use of marine space for marine farming. The changes will ensure that none of these benefits come at the expense of sustainability.”

Parker reminded us that New Zealand has one of the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zones, with a marine area more than 15 times larger than New Zealand’s land area.

“That means we can gain the benefits of a thriving, sustainable aquaculture sector while allocating a relatively small part of our marine environment to marine farming.

“A strong and sustainable aquaculture sector also give us more choices about how we produce seafood in New Zealand as well as options to reduce environmental pressures from other, existing, fishing practices.”

He said he  looks forward to working together with all New Zealanders to ensure reforms of the RMA keep this important and sustainable sector moving in the right direction.

All New Zealanders – you might think – means all New Zealanders.  Just in case anyone fears they might be left out, however, Parker said this include tangata whenua, industry, workers and local communities.

This suggests lots of consultation and, on top of that, there’s always the prospect of progress being impeded by yet another claim to the Waitangi Tribunal about – who knows?

But (as Stuff reports)  NZ King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne ways there’s no time for that – time is running out to save the aquaculture industry in New Zealand.

“There’s a race going on to see who is faster, climate change killing our fish, or the Government changing the rules to allow us to save them,” he said.

He said it had been years since the Government first announced changes to its aquaculture rules, and in that time there had been no concrete steps taken to help.

“We have had two years of cooler summers, and now it’s looking like it’s going to be a hot, record-breaking summer. We had time to save this.”

He said for NZ King Salmon it was a matter of moving farms in the Pelorus Sound area about 7km away into the Cook Strait, taking advantage of cooler currents and “dealing with climate change for us for 25 years”.

Instead, he said slow progress was leading to mass fish death despite all efforts to make coastal fish farms viable in increasing temperatures, with wasted effort and money and nothing to show for it.

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