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The area of Pegasus Port, on Stewart Island. (Map: Department of Conservation NZ)

New aquaculture project raises environmentalists' concerns

Click on the flag for more information about New Zealand NEW ZEALAND
Tuesday, July 18, 2017, 02:50 (GMT + 9)

The proposed aquaculture project on Stewart Island has caused concern to environmental groups, who consider it will significantly affect its "pristine marine habitat".

The NGOs Forest & Bird and the Environment and Conservation Organisations of New Zealand have questioned the location chosen for the potential salmon farm project.

In an attempt to protect the island, Forest & Bird released documents that looked into the anticipated impact of aquaculture on the marine environment at Port Pegasus, Stuff reported.

The documents were from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, advising government ministers on the establishment of Special Economic Zones and their potential effect on the environment.

One of these reports stated that Port Pegasus contained "some of the largest areas of near pristine marine habitat in New Zealand, with significant natural heritage values".

It also stated the aquaculture proposal would be unlikely to pass the conditions of the Resource Management Act.

"Initial advice is that most of Stewart Island (and all of Port Pegasus) will be outstanding from a landscape and natural character perspective, and salmon farming in these areas would be inappropriate under the RMA [the act]," the report points out.

The act restrictions for projects such as Port Pegasus could be over-ruled by the establishment of the special zones, but an intervention of that type "will entail social license risk and risks failing to address difficult trade-offs between competing values and uses".

The Southland Aquaculture Reference Group is conducting a feasibility study into the merits of the aquaculture project. Forest & Bird Otago/Southland regional conservation and volunteer manager Sue Maturin said the whole process "just doesn't make sense".

Maturin said there were concerns that the government would seek to establish the special zones to avoid any potential act restrictions.

The reference group has reviewed the findings of the Nelson-based Cawthron Institute, which had been conducting surveys since April on feasibility of the site for salmon farming.

The aquaculture project forms part of the Southland Regional Development Strategy, and has been highlighted as one of the three key projects to help diversify the region's economy. However, the project has not been plain sailing since the announcement of the proposed site in Pegasus Bay at the end of March.

In May some environmentalists warned that there was a possible negative impact on the growing sea lion colony in the bay, and in June the proposal faced certain opposition at a public meeting performed on Stewart Island, Stuff reported.

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