For New Zealand’s Sake – Let’s hope New Zealand King Salmon does not need that day in Court


I read in the Dominion Post today that the New Zealand Supreme court had reserved its decision on legality of King Salmon case ruling…

According to Hamish McNicol the author of the story (I am paraphrasing here):

Yesterday two environmental groups [the Residents’ group Sustain our Sounds and the Environmental Defence Society (EDS)] asked the Supreme Court to allow an appeal against the Nelson exporting company’s approved consent to develop four new salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds, asserting that board of inquiry had erred in approving district plan changes which created zones where farms could be built at the same time as setting conditions of consent. Furthermore the two applicants also questioned how the board could agree to the four new salmon farms when it had identified the absence of evidence relating to the impact of 40,000 tonnes of feeding discharge on water quality?

So as the title says the Supreme Court has reserved its decision to allow the appeal, delaying “a process which first began in 2007 and has cost King Salmon [around] $10 million NZD.”

Somewhat uncharacteristically of the Dominion Post in my opinion, Hamish McNicol, effectively expresses the frustration that King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne must be feeling with this further delay:

Grant Rosewarne said the company had been trying to grow its $115m-a-year, 8000-tonne production operation for nearly a decade. In that time the company’s production had dropped about 25 per cent, as it switched to different production techniques which it had hoped the four new farms would offset. It had originally asked for nine farms, but was granted consent to build four by the board of inquiry, a decision upheld against appeal in the High Court at Blenheim earlier this year.”

Grant Rosewarne said that in contrast, Tasmanian salmon farming production, one of its main competitors, had recently been approved expansion from its 55,000 tonne-a-year output, after only a day of hearings.

They have less coastal area and for a fraction of the cost they got much more space. We’ve got better environmental conditions, but we’re stagnating while they’re going ahead leaps and bounds.”

The company’s salmon farming currently occupied about 5 hectares (12 acres), and the four new farms would add 6ha, as well as about 200 jobs to the region. By contrast, mussel farming in the Marlborough Sounds occupied about 2800 ha. Out of those 2800 ha they generate around $300m of revenue, whereas with five we generate $115m.”

We can bring in huge additional exports to New Zealand, but we need a tiny amount of space to grow.

He commented that he hoped this [which I take to mean a decision not to hear the appeal] would mark the end of proceedings. Well so does GFBF!!! I

New Zealand King [Chinook] Salmon

New Zealand King [Chinook] Salmon (Source NZKS)

However the eNGOs have Matthew Palmer as their representation, who has argued that not only does the matter involve exceptional circumstances of public importance, the local bodies granted the resource consents in the incorrect order. Palmer further argued that:

The Resource Management Act does not permit the board of inquiry to change salmon farming from being prohibited to allowed when it could not be satisfied about the possible environmental effects for which it was set up.”

On the other hand King Salmon lawyer Andrew Butler argued that the board of inquiry followed due process., and although “it had expressed some concern over the lack of some environmental evidence, [overall it] was was not unhappy with the initial discharge of salmon feed”.  Consequently Butler claims that the Supreme Court need not grant an appeal.

This seems sensible. An appeal would not only be counter productive, it would be expensive, and potentially detrimental to New Zealand’s prospects of developing and building further export markets for quality farmed salmon abroad.

What New Zealanders must learn to do (if we want to be competitive) is to develop perspective when we see development going ahead; instead of going on the absolute offensive – “NOT IN MY AREA“.

arlborough Sounds, New Zealand. Home of New Zealand King Salmon... Producers of which say that they "Sustainably produc[e] the world’s best salmon." (see

Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. Home of New Zealand King Salmon… Producers of which say that they “Sustainably produc[e] the world’s best salmon.” (see

The King Salmon Expansion in Context

Recently I saw a presentation by New Zealand King Salmon, CEO Grant Rosewarne… and to be honest I was both inspired and saddened. I was inspired by Rosewarne’s boldness and clear vision. He presented a picture of New Zealand King Salmon doing great things for our South Pacific region, both economically and environmentally.  But I was saddened by the lack of boldness and lack of vision shared by so many other New Zealanders, who couldn’t see the boldness of Rosewarne’s vision (or refuse to see it) nor the responsibility inherent in it. These New Zealanders just don’t seem to want to take a long term strategic view of the market and New Zealand’s place in it; nor can they seem to anticipate the relationship between between development at home and market engagement abroad.

Without cohesion and a shared entrepreneurial spirit, New Zealand cannot possibly begin to make good on it’s potential, and utilise the full benefit of not only it’s resources and it’s spirit, but also the international relationships New Zealand possesses, and recognition brand New Zealand receives abroad.

To truncate a long story, and postulate a point – New Zealand should not only applaud our primary producers, we should ensure that they have the requisite social licence to operate. At present New Zealand cannot produce enough salmon to meet global demand not only for salmon, but for New Zealand salmon.

Table showing Global Farmed Salmon Production per year

Farmed Salmon production

New Zealand King Salmon initially applied to bring this total annual production up to 30,000 tonnes, which although a significant increase in productivity; at 1.8% of total farmed salmon production, is still considerably less than the Faroe Islands and Tasmania, and miles from the production of Norway (whose farm salmon comprises almost two thirds of the total farmed salmon market).

At present the farming of the King or Chinook Salmon species is dominated by New Zealand (there is only 1 other King Salmon farm outside New Zealand in Chile). This premium species is very difficult to raise without intellectual property. So for the moment New Zealand retains a competitive advantage. 

The addition of 12 more hectares (to the presently in situ 5 hectares) would provide the Marlborough Sounds area and New Zealand in general with considerable benefit (source: Lessons from NZ King Salmon’s expansion in the Marlborough Sounds). These include:

  • 180 more jobs (there are presently 370 employees involved in farming king salmon)
  • Exports would grow from $60m to about $300m NZD
  • King salmon would occupy an additional 1% of the global Farmed Salmon Market (from 0.8% to 1.8%)
  • Total Revenue would grow from $110m to $400-500m NZD
  • Value from the farm gate per hectare would increase from $1.4m NZD to ~$20m NZD (this compares to farm gate value per hectare for beef and lamb of $721 NZD; dairy of $6,086; kiwifruit of $41,914; oysters of $28,889 and mussels of $39,238 NZD)
  • As of yet the approval (“the social licence to operate” ) to expand the King Salmon operation from 5 ha to a a lesser 12 ha is still pending… And this may take even longer if the justices of the New Zealand Supreme Court decide to hear the appeal.

According to the Listener New Zealand salmon farming practices were recently acknowledged by the Global Aquaculture Performance Index as the world’s greenest. So long NZKS continues to manage their farms responsibly and sustainably, and ensure any adverse effects are avoided or mitigated, it would seem on the balance that the benefits as a result of this expansion from 5 hectares to 17 hectares are significant; and outweigh the detriments. 

Location of Proposed Salmon Farm sites (source: [Click on Map to download the PDF of this map]

Location of Proposed Salmon Farm sites (source: [Click on Map to download the PDF of this map]

Opposition to the 7 ha of extra Salmon Farm

The sustained opposition has been ferocious. GFBF supports opposition to development that produces adverse environmental effects, and upsets the ability for an ecosystem to continue to bring forth life and indeed natural resources. But GFBF cannot support this opposition to King Salmon’s application to expand, not fully…

The process surrounding expansion of the New Zealand King Salmon has been an advertisement for the weaknesses of the New Zealand Resource Management Act (RMA) which provides the administrative statutory framework by which local and regional bodies manage resources and the environment that surrounds them. At best the RMA has always featured a little compromise… but in the King Salmon case there has been very little. Throughout the resource consent process the consenting authority has considered submissions and letters with the same weight that scientific and technical reports receive. Emotionally charged opposition has been given incredible leeway withstanding the limited grounds for such, in the RMA itself.

On the balance it would seem that negative effects are resoundingly disproportionate to the benefits, not only the Marlborough Sounds are,a but New Zealand in general. On the facts the only issue of any significance has been the increased production of concentrated salmon poo as a result of the extra 7 hectares. A secondary thorny issue is loss of ‘amenity’ value in an area characterised by staggering natural beauty.

Arguably, King Salmon have addressed these negative effects as they are obliged to do pursuant to the RMA and the conditions of consent.

Loss of ‘Amenity’ Value

At present there are 5 farms (marine paddocks is probably more apt) as each one is about the size of a 1 ha sheep paddock. The consent for the 4 new “marine paddocks” [King salmon applied for 9 or 12 ha more] add an extra 7 ha in total for the purpose of salmon production. This compares to 150,000 ha of mussels. The visual impact of these 4 marine paddocks in the context of the aquaculture occurring in the Marlborough Sounds when one takes into account the ‘considerable’ mussel production can only be minimal… surely!

An example of a Mussel Farm in the Marlborough Sounds, NZ

An example of a Mussel Farm in the Marlborough Sounds, NZ

This picture shows two (2 ha) of the King Salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

This picture shows two (2 ha) of the King Salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

Poop Pollution

With respect to adverse effects on the aquatic environment, Rosewarne indicated that in the 25 year history of New Zealand King Salmon there has has never been an adverse environmental effect. He compared this to periodic closing of the beaches at Picton due to sewage pollution [GFBF points out that much of the hills that plunge down into the Marlborough Sounds, that are not festooned with native bush, and covered in exotic radiata pine forest, which deposits considerable run off into the Sound’s waterways].

In a report on the Effects of the proposed farms to the water column Cawthron Institute scientist Ben Knight summarises:

The addition of the proposed salmon farms will result in a new nutrient load to the Marlborough Sounds, with nitrogen (N) identified as the most critical  nutrient with regard to water column enrichment effects. An assessment  using a mass-balance modelling approach suggests that the existing  systems are within experimentally derived ‘critical limits’ for nutrient  additions. The rates of nutrient addition associated with the proposed farms are unlikely to result in major ecosystem shifts (e.g. changes from mesotrophic (moderate nutrient) to eutrophic (high nutrient) conditions).”


“A shift to a persistent eutrophic or ‘overly enriched’ state is generally considered to be undesirable due to associated higher risks of harmful algal bloom formation and wider ecosystem impacts. When potential modelled increases are compared to measured background TN concentrations and trophic classifications, I note that the systems are unlikely to result in significant changes to the current trophic state of the region (i.e. a shift to a eutrophic state). The range of TN data shows a mean of about 150 mg TN/m3 is observed within the systems; however considerable natural inter-annual and inter-seasonal variation is possible (from approximately 84 to 302 mg TN/m3). Therefore, the proposal may lead to small increases in the time spent in a higher trophic state in the regions, although the average trophic state of the system is unlikely to change.”


“An assessment of the physical effects of farm structures on currents, waves, shading and water column stratification, suggest effects to these properties are likely, but they will be small and localised. Physical water column effects could potentially be important in areas where water currents are low and small changes may have a proportionally larger impact (e.g. Papatua). I consider that the structural footprints at all of the proposed sites (which range between 1.5 to 2 ha) are relatively small compared to the scale of their surrounding environments, and therefore these effects are unlikely to lead to changes in the physical environment that could influence the wider ecology of the regions.

In another report on the Benthic effects of the proposed farms Cawthron Institute senior scientist Nigel Keeley summarises:

A rigorous site selection process was undertaken to select for locations with favourable physical and environmental attributes. The optimum position for the cages within the sites have been modelled and refined to ensure that the footprints are not situated over any significant areas of potential sensitive or ecological valuable habitats. As a result the vast majority of the seabed effects discussed here relate to soft-sediment/ cobble/ broken shell habitats.  […]

“Seven of the eight proposed farms are considered to be highly dispersive, which minimises the potential for waste accumulation beneath the farms, and instead will be exported from the area and mixed with larger water bodies where they can be assimilated by natural processes. Habitats in the centre of the primary depositional footprints [directly beneath and adjacent the cages] are likely to be highly modified and any sessile sensitive epifauna are unlikely to survive. However, because of the dispersive nature of the sites, the majority of the primary footprint will be in a state of mild enrichment, associated with low-level biological and physico-chemical changes.”  […]

“Operating capacities have been estimated for each of the sites based on regionally validated depositional modelling and experience with two existing high flow sites in Tory Channel. Conservative initial feed levels have been recommended along with a staged development, whereby progression is dependent on compliance with pre-specified environmental quality standards, as a precautionary approach.”

Although the effects to the soft sediment habitats beneath the cages are expected to be pronounced, the total affected area is small in a regional context, the effects are reversible, and the overall effects are not expected to result in an ecologically significant change to the overall Marlborough Sounds environment.”

Rosewarne also iterated Keeley’s conclusions that bulk of the proposed farms that are situated in in fast flowing water will fully self remediate in 2 years (high flow site). The couple of farms that will be situated in low flow areas will take up to 10 years to fully self remediate.

Not withstanding the scientific and technical information indicating the lack of long term adverse effects, NZKS will further mitigate and minimise any effects by:

    1. Increased monitoring to gain a better understanding of environmental risks
    2. Change farm management practices to mitigate impacts. It is proposed that the extent of the changes to farm management practices will need to reflect the scale and severity of environmental impacts observed. Some examples of management options include:
      • Altering feed composition; e.g. to reduce contaminant inputs and/or wastage entering the environment,
      • Improving farming structures/ changing farm materials (e.g. to alleviate associated discharges or bio fouling issues),
      • Changes around the use of anti-fouling coatings and operations for predator net handling and cleaning
      • Improve feeding mechanisms and/or composition to reduce feed wastage and discharge of associated contaminants,
      • Shift cages to reduce impacts on sensitive habitats areas,
      • Decrease stocking densities (and feed levels) to reduce the discharge and thereby the flux of nutrients and biodeposits, &
      • Fallowing (rotational usage), or ultimately retiring a farm. 

It would seem, at least from an objective standpoint, that the combination of potentially low negative effect on a regional basis, high rates of re-mediation and a management plan the pro-actively minimises environmental impact, that provides considerable economic and social benefit both regionally and nationally, deserves to have its application for consent granted. Yet for detractors, it would seem that this evidence is not enough!! A small/low impact scenario is not sufficient for opponents who require an absolutely zero-impact standard for NZKS!!

Other Criticisms

In some cases New Zealand King Salmon has been provided with absolutely no benefit of the doubt at all, and subject to what can only be perceived as vexatious criticism. It would seem that sometimes they are ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’. One example has been opposition they have received on feed.

Aquaculture is often criticised for the often unsustainable practise of feeding farmed fish with wild fish (which also feed other wild fish). Therefore in order to comply with world’s best practice (including WWF Guidelines) and ensure that the Salmon feed is not merely taking food fish from the sea where it would otherwise feed wild fish; and feeding it to farmed fish; King salmon use feed that comprises primarily vegetable and land based protein (whole animals) and only 8% low trophic fish species (highly productive Peruvian and Chilean anchovies).

Yet opponents have  found a way to criticised King Salmon for its use of this land protein based feed. A frogblog post by Green Party MP Steffan Browning in an attempt to score political points, recently heralded:

Consumer NZ has recently published a chilling release or anyone who is partial to salmon. They looked into what farmed salmon is actually fed, and did omega-3 testing to find out whether labeling was true to claim.

Consumer has put a spotlight on some of the King Salmon’s claims about what they feed their fish. They talked to the producer of pellets fed to most NZ salmon farms and found that less than 10% of the feed is fishmeal. Fish oil is added to the pellets (it comprises 7% of the pellet) because it is the main source of omega-3 for farmed salmon. Wild salmon get it from algae and other marine plants via the fish they eat. Consumer’s testing of Omega -3 of five different varieties found in all but one case test results were below the levels claimed on the label. A subsequent Marlborough Express story highlighted that the Regal Salmon website (A King Salmon’s Product) claimed that “the feed given to its fish ‘replicates the diet of wild salmon.”

Penny Wardle of the Marlborough Express added:

Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin told the Marlborough Express that the King Salmon website stated feed given to its fish “replicates the diet of wild salmon”. Yet abattoir byproducts from poultry processing as well as bloodmeal from cattle, pigs and sheep made up a major part of their diet.

Eating krill and other crustaceans gave wild salmon their pink glow but farmed salmon were fed an artificial pigment to colour their flesh

Grant Rosewarne countered that King Salmon was proud that 90- 92%of protein fed to its salmon came from animals or vegetables. This was an efficient use of meat-processing waste (that is not used or consumed by humans). He added that “that feeding fish to fish was unsustainable… [and that] if 100% marine protein was used, we would be criticised from a different quarter.”

GFBF totally agrees with Rosewarn here – and finds this line of criticism mischievous!

To Sum Up

Ultimately I hope that the Supreme Court decide not to hear the appeal. The idea of putting a company to the sword (the defence of which has costed in excess of $10m NZD), who are planning to progress a relatively small development, that meets its requirements pursuant to the RMA, has a plan to minimise and mitigate negative environmental effects and moreover provides teh region with an attractive bag of benefits including jobs and export dollars, seems ad odds with my conception of natural justice.

For GFBF it is simple; objectively the benefits of the expansion project outweigh the detriments (which are in turn managed) – and for this reason the expansion ought to go ahead!!!


One thought on “For New Zealand’s Sake – Let’s hope New Zealand King Salmon does not need that day in Court

  1. Pingback: The winner is… Well its not New Zealand! The New Zealand Supreme Court decides to hear the eNGO New ZEaland King Salmon Appeals | Green Fish Blue Fish

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