By ANNE BESTON, environment reporter

A British activist dubbed the "fish farm bogeyman" is in New Zealand to spread the word on what he terms the "biological nonsense" of wild fish farming.

Don Staniford was instrumental in the fight to have a toxic fungicide banned after it was discovered that the carcinogen was being widely used in Scotland's salmon farms.

But as late as last month the Scotsman newspaper was reporting residues of the "malachite green" chemical are still being found in salmon on sale to Scottish consumers.


The chemical was used to battle parasitic sea lice, which have plagued the salmon farming industry in Scotland and Canada.

The British arm of the environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth says that, together with sea lice transferring to wild fish, escapes from Scotland's salmon farms have also contributed to the wild-salmon population crash, with "genetic pollution" meaning farmed fish now outnumber catches of wild salmon by seven to one.

Mr Staniford, who visited the Marlborough farms of the Nelson company King Salmon last week and is touring aquaculture facilities in the North Island, said farming carnivorous fish species was "fatally flawed".

Salmon farming spread disease to wild salmon, caused pollution and allowed thousands of fish to escape into the wild.

"There is no future in it - it is not environmentally sustainable. The situation in Scotland has been a nightmare scenario."

Despite an "open and transparent" debate with King Salmon executives, Mr Staniford said he "agreed to disagree with the company on 80 per cent of the issues".

"Carnivorous fish farming is inherently unsustainable, whether it's in Scotland, Chile or New Zealand," he said.

King Salmon chief executive Paul Steere said he was happy to have taken Mr Staniford on a tour of the company's operations to demonstrate the differences between New Zealand salmon farms and those in the Northern Hemisphere.

"The industry in New Zealand is not as intense and we don't have the disease problems here that have happened overseas," he said.

Malaysian-owned King Salmon, a small fish-farmer by world standards, employs 300 people and its salmon farms include four at Pelorus and Queen Charlotte Sounds. It also has hatcheries in Canterbury and Golden Bay.

Mr Steere said the company's four farms were 10km apart and the antibiotics and vaccines used in overseas salmon farming were not used here.

Escapes from the farms were rare but there were no indigenous salmon that farmed fish could "interact with", he said.

The company's farms are made up of between 24 and 34 separate cages of 30m by 30m and, depending on the size of the fish, could hold between 28,000 and 30,000 fish in each cage.

Mr Staniford is scheduled to visit Northland this week to look at mussel and oyster farming.

He has also spoken out against proposals to farm kingfish in Northland.

A moratorium on new aquaculture projects is due to expire next March and while fish and shellfish farming proponents are pushing strongly for new licences, they face strong opposition from coastal landowners, boaties and recreational anglers in places such as Northland and the Firth of Thames.

New Zealand marine farms occupy 4000ha but the industry aims to double its $280 million-a-year earnings by 2010 and increase its size to 17,000ha by 2020.