New legislation is about to jumpstart the aquaculture sector after a decade of "missed opportunity", according to industry organisation Aquaculture New Zealand.
Chief executive Mike Burrell said the passing of the Aquaculture Legislation Amendment Bill (No 3), which streamlines the aquaculture development application process and allows for farming a wider range of species in certain areas, would see the industry put the doldrums of the last decade behind it.
“The third reading brings us to the end of a process that set out to fix a law that had stifled growth and led to a decade of missed opportunity for New Zealand,” Burrell said.
“The industry can now fulfil its promise of generating sustained and sustainable growth and jobs in New Zealand’s regions at a time when that is most needed.”
According to the organisation, which brings together the membership of the New Zealand Mussel Industry Council, the New Zealand Salmon Farmers Association and the New Zealand Oyster Industry Association, aquaculture currently employs 3000 people.
However, that number is expected to increase significantly as the industry expands over the coming years.
Currently estimated to be worth more than $380 million per year, the aquaculture sector has a target of reaching $1 billion in sales by 2025.
“We are confident this law will enable industry to effectively implement its strategy and grow sustainably towards its goal of being a billion-dollar industry,” Burrell said.
From October 1 changes will be made to the Aquaculture Reform (Repeals and Transitional Provisions) Act 2004, the Fisheries Act 1996, the Maori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004 and the Resource Management Act 1991.
Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Phil Heatley said one of the key aspects of the new law was the removal of the requirement for Aquaculture Management Areas, or AMAs, to be established before consent applications can be made.
"Aquaculture needs only a small fraction of our coastal space and has the potential to be a $1 billion industry by 2025. This potential was fettered by the unintended consequences of former regulation that saw aquaculture applications held back by moratoria."
This would put aquaculture on the same footing as other coastal activities and enable councils to plan for it in a similar way, he said.
Aquaculture development would now go through consents processes under the Resource Management Act.
The legislation also specifically assists aquaculture development in the Tasman and Waikato by amending both regional coastal plans to enable applications to farm a wider range of species, including finfish, in areas where aquaculture is already established.
"Before the introduction of this legislation, these two plans contained the greatest barriers to developing aquaculture. The government recognised there was a great opportunity to stimulate investment and growth in these regions, within acceptable environmental limits," said Heatley.
In Waikato, the coastal plan has also been amended to establish the Coromandel Marine Farm Zone.
A government fund that supports community-led growth and innovation in the rural sector has also been widened to include aquaculture.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) will now consider applications for projects that support economic and environmental performance in the marine and land-based aquaculture sector.
Agriculture minister David Carter said the fund already invested up to $9 million a year in projects led by farmers, growers and foresters, often with technical support from industry groups and research organisations.
"The fund has assisted around 800 projects over the years, from avocados to wine and everything in between, so it makes sense to expand it to include a growing aquaculture industry."
The Sustainable Farming Fund is currently open for applications, taking proposals for grants over $25,000 until September 26 and grants under $25,000 until February next year.