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3 Aquaculture regulatory framework

3.1 Overview

New Zealand’s long, indented coastline of some 17,000 km and relatively clean, unpolluted waters are important features favouring aquaculture development and have to be adequately protected for a sustainable aquaculture industry to flourish. New Zealand’s foreshore and seabed is publicly owned and, as such, New Zealanders have an expectation of free access to it.

The Minister of Conservation and regional and unitary councils jointly manage the coastal marine area, which includes the foreshore and seabed (and coastal water and the air space above it) from mean high water springs out to 12 nautical miles. The developing aquaculture industry and relevant regulators have had to navigate tensions between sustainable industry development and other uses and values of the coast, including the high recreational and natural character values that New Zealanders place on coastal space.

Since the aquaculture reform legislation was passed in 2004,3 the lead role in aquaculture regulation lies with New Zealand’s 12 regional councils and four unitary authorities. They are responsible for coastal management, including deciding where marine farming is appropriate, and processing consent applications for individual farms under the RMA. The establishment of aquaculture management areas, the resource consent process and other legislation are considered below as part of the wider regulatory context that impacts on managing the risks to and from aquaculture, with particular regard to business failure that could ultimately lead to farm abandonment.

Overviews of the relevant legislation and processes for all aquaculture activities can be found at the websites of the Ministry for the Environment and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations:

This section should be read in conjunction with the supporting material in Appendix 2.

3.2 Implications for risk management

3.2.1 Councils determine regulatory risk management

Under the reformed legislation, councils are responsible for the management of marine farming activities in their jurisdiction. This spans high-level planning for the coastal marine area, managing the RMA consent process, developing consent conditions, and ongoing monitoring of marine farming sites for compliance issues and environmental impacts to reduce risk.

Councils are also responsible for maintaining and enhancing water quality in their regions, which is important for marine farming. Councils impose fees and charges for the use of coastal facilities that are critical to marine farming operation, including wharves and boat ramps. Aquaculture businesses can be vulnerable if water quality or farm site access is compromised.

Central government provides guidance only for the management of the coastal marine environment, and aquaculture in particular, via the aquaculture implementation work of the across-government aquaculture implementation team. It takes an advisory role with councils, supplemented by staff-level interactions in the regions (e.g. interactions between councils and Department of Conservation conservancy staff).

Councils deliver regionally tailored approaches to coastal planning that reflect the characteristics of the region’s coastal marine area and constituents’ views on its appropriate use. This has resulted in different approaches to aquaculture being developed all over New Zealand, and marine farmers operating in different jurisdictions can face significantly different regimes even in the same body of water. However, it is understood that there is growing knowledge transfer from those councils that have a longer and more varied experience of marine farming.

3.2.2 New regime is largely untested

Central government and industry acknowledge that new marine space and the efficient use of existing space, among other things, are important to progressing the industry strategy towards the nominated growth target. The new process for establishing aquaculture management areas is yet to be tested, although initiatives are underway in some regions. There have been no new marine farm consents granted under the new legislation introduced in 2005, and industry participants remain uncertain about the conditions councils might place on consents for new space and new consents for existing space once they expire.

The work on implementation of Our Blue Horizon acknowledges that support with the planning process is important to achieving the process efficiencies that were the aim of the aquaculture law reform.

3.2.3 Legislation reform positive for aquaculture risk management

There seems to be little formal risk assessment required of, or undertaken by, councils in relation to consents in the coastal marine area. Consents are assessed on a case-by-case basis, and informed by institutional knowledge within councils and the accompanying assessment of potential environmental effects. In most cases, a council will undertake constraints mapping (or opportunities mapping, or use and values mapping) before proceeding with plan changes. Such information collection will introduce effective regional risk assessment at the front end of the planning process.

3.2.4 Regulation, perceptions and marine farm market value

Consented marine farming space with proven productivity and proximity to existing facilities is currently scarce. Many industry participants are keen to extend their operations without having to expose themselves to the lead times and uncertainties of the still-unproven aquaculture management area creation process. While the allocated marine farming space has risen steadily due to pre-reform applications being processed under the old legislation, there is still an active market for developed marine farming space.

Iwi claims to space are also likely to have a direct impact on the market for and value of marine space, as the Crown may become a significant marine farm purchaser to fulfil its settlement of the Crown’s obligation to Maori for commercial aquaculture. Another possible outcome is that the Crown will choose to initiate aquaculture management areas to meet its obligations to iwi.

3.2.5 Public consultation and valuations of the coastal marine area

Developed areas with high population density are likely to have high competing demands for use of the coastal marine area, and different groups will place differing values on it. Balancing these different values can be difficult. There is little independent information that outlines the risks from aquaculture, compares these risks to other activity risks in the coastal marine area, and shows how these risks can be managed. In an effort to avoid consent delays caused by public opposition, some applicants have proposed marine farming in speculative spaces where the risks of pursuing aquaculture are less well known, and risk management strategies relevant to in-shore aquaculture are possibly not proven.


3 The aquaculture reform legislation, which took effect on 1 January 2005, includes five amendment acts and two new acts:

  • Resource Management Act (No. 2) 2004
  • Fisheries Amendment Act (No. 3) 2004
  • Conservation Amendment Act 2004
  • Biosecurity Amendment Act 2004
  • Maori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004
  • Te Ture Whenua Maori Amendment Act (No. 3) 2004
  • Aquaculture Reform (Repeals and Transitional Provisions) Act 2004.