By Chloe Ranford, Local Democracy Reporter
Plans to free up prime swim spots in the Marlborough Sounds could force mussel farms further from shore.
Marine farmers will need to leave another swimming pool's worth of space between their farms and the shoreline under the region's new aquaculture rules, in what one report estimates will cost up to $3000 a farm.
The change is one of several proposed under the region's new aquaculture chapter, released in November, almost a year after the rest of the Marlborough District Council's new environment plan was published.
Most of the 590 marine farms in the Marlborough Sounds are located between 50 metres and 200m of the shoreline, in what is referred to as the "coastal ribbon".
The new chapter suggested widening the ribbon, moving it further from shore, and dividing it into "aquaculture management areas" where marine farming was legal.
Farms outside these aquaculture management areas would be deemed "inappropriate", aside from those in the ocean, meaning their licence could not be renewed.
To become compliant, farmers would need to move mussel lines or entire farms into a management area, or ask for a management area to be created around them.
The idea was to improve public access to the coast by making mussel farms move further out to sea and spread their lines further apart, creating more space.
Marine Farming Association president Jon Large said communities wanted to drive their boats near beaches.
"It's really costly to shift a marine farms as it involves a lot of vessel time, but there are only a few vessels with the capacity to shift the farms. It's not an easy task."
A report estimated it would cost between $1500 and $3000 a farm to meet the rules, or up to $1.8 million in total.
Large said most farms were within a management area and just needed to move their inside lines to the outside.
"The management areas are quite good as they give both the industry and the community certainty about where aquaculture is going to occur, and where it's not."
The changes were expected to reduce reconsenting costs by 43 per cent, saving the industry almost $18m.
An assessment by the Cawthron Institute ruled deeper waters could also result in less environmental issues. Moving to deeper waters could also boost the productivity of farms by allowing for longer drop lines.
A case study of Beatrix Bay, in Pelorus Sound, found that shifting a dozen farms and relocating two others would allow small craft to sail around the bay's inner perimeter.
Mussel farms and their boats would seem further away.
But the case study also pointed out that smaller bays could become "dominated" by aquaculture if farms were moved further into their already cramped waters.
Exempt from the rule changes were mussel farms in Port Underwood, where movement would cause more harm than good, and in Anakoha Bay, in the outer Sounds, where farms would thin the navigable channel.
The proposed rules came into effect on December 2, preventing legal clashes with the Government's own marine farming rules, which were put down a day earlier.
The Government put down rules as part of its ambitious plan to make aquaculture a $3 billion industry by 2035.
Marlborough was New Zealand's largest aquaculture area, producing 60 per cent of the nation's salmon and 57 per cent of its mussels. Marlborough's new marine farming rules proposed keeping to this level of output.
The council did not have enough evidence to prove that the Sounds could handle more marine farms, or that the negative effects of aquaculture required there to be less.
But the rules could still be swayed by public opinion.
Council environmental policy manager Pere Hawes said at a meeting last year the aquaculture rules represented "the end of one process, and the start of another one".
Marlborough's environment plan brought together three of the region's major management plans into a single document and defined what activities were appropriate in the region's urban, rural and coastal environments.
But the aquaculture chapter was shelved when the rest of the plan went out for feedback in 2016, as the council was "not satisfied" it gave effect to Government laws.
Instead, the council decided to continue the review process and established the Marlborough Aquaculture Review Working Group – made up of marine farming, community and Government representatives – to help it.
After running a collaborative process, the recommendations of the group were reported to the planning, finance and community committee last June.
It was five months before the council agreed to send the "marine farming" and "finfish farming" rules for feedback.
Rules put forward by mussel and oyster farmer Apex Marine Farm Ltd – which made up the remaining of the aquaculture chapter – had not yet been made public. The council was still waiting on stakeholder feedback.
But it was possible these rules would "catch up" to those already out for feedback, and be heard at the same time.
The council was required to consult the public for at least a month on the proposed new rules, but opted to lengthen the response time due to "high public interest".
Feedback could be submitted until February 26.