Mark O’Connor, of Southland’s Aquaculture Working Group, would like to see more action from the Government to help create growth in aquaculture in Southland.
The Southland Aquaculture Working Group is calling on the Government to pass a special legislation for open-ocean salmon farms that could help fill the economic gap left by Tiwai closing down.
Group chairman Mark O’Connor said sustainable aquaculture, particularly high-value ocean salmon farming, has been identified as Southland’s best near-term economic opportunity.
But O’Connor said it was also critical that the smelter kept running for the next few years.
“The Tiwai jobs must be secured for at least 5-10 years to enable scaling of the aquaculture industry.”
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“Scaling aquaculture and achieving 400-500 jobs will take at least five years, and scaling to 800 jobs within 10 years, so we need to work collaboratively and with great urgency.”
“But aquaculture is also not a short-term fix and will not replace the 2000-plus job losses from the closure of Tiwai next year.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived in Invercargill on Wednesday night, along with Finance Minister Grant Robinson, to meet with Southland’s leaders on Thursday in relation to the closure.
When asked about saving the smelter, Ardern replied: “we’ve got plenty of tme to talk to you tomorrow, we’ll have a stand up then”.
O’Connor is pushing for the Government to consider passing a special legislation that would allow individual aquaculture industries to form open-ocean salmon farms in southern waters – the first of its kind in New Zealand.
An open-ocean farm differed from a coastal farm, as it was further offshore and involved using new technology in zones that had higher energy conditions, such as higher waves and stronger currents, he said.
It did not fit within the Resource Management Act, therefore a special legislation would be needed to designate suitable open ocean aquaculture areas in coastal Southland.
However, this would not mean the appropriate environmental standards would not be followed, O’Connor said.
The environmental impact would be site specific.
Now was the time for the aquaculture opportunity to be realised, however, it did not have the luxury of time.
Last week, Rio Tinto announced it will close the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter by August next year, resulting in the loss of at least 2000 jobs directly and indirectly.
New Zealand King Salmon, Ngāi Tahu Seafoods and Sanford have already expressed interest in open-ocean salmon farming in Southland waters.
The latter two have lodged resource consent applications with Environment Southland, O’Connor said.
However, Provincial Growth funding was needed to help support Sanford’s land-based Recirculating Aquaculture System Salmon Hatchery.
He could not say how much money from the PGF would be required, but he estimated it would be in the tens of millions.
Evaluations were under way to plan for what pilot infrastructure would be needed for an open-ocean trial before an application was made, he said.
O’Connor was imploring the whole Government for support.
In 2019, the Government announced a strategy that would help streamline the aquaculture industry to becoming a $3 billion industry by 2035.
Last Thursday, Finance Minister Grant Robertson pointed to aquaculture as an industry that could help Southland’s economic recovery.
“We’ve been working with the people of Southland for the last three years with a number of different projects, both through the Provincial Growth Fund, and more widely supporting things in the broader aquaculture area where we’ve established our aquaculture strategy.”
In February, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage refused to weigh in on a New Zealand King Salmon proposal for an open-ocean salmon farm in Cook Strait saying it was not of “national significance”, despite others calling it a potential “game changer” for aquaculture.
The Southland Aquaculture Working Group was formed in 2017 to bring together local government and iwi, and industry to enable the growth and development of aquaculture in the region.