New Zealand: Nela Conference 2002 - Aquaculture: Creating More Problems Than It Is Solving?

A New Zealand Perspective on Regulatory and Planning Issues
Last Updated: 20 December 2002

Paper by Karen Price, Partner and Mark Sly, Solicitor (NZ and Qld) Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, Auckland

In New Zealand, as elsewhere, aquaculture presents a tremendous challenge for regulatory and planning agencies, and as a consequence, also for the industry itself. Marine farms and farming areas now cover very large areas, and move further off-shore as technology advances. The speed and extent of development are far beyond what can have been envisaged when aquaculture was first legislated for in the 1960s,1 and deficiencies in the current legislative regime caused the Government to impose a two year moratorium on the granting of coastal permits for aquaculture activities in March this year,2 to operate while reform proposals were under consideration.

Considered as an "activity" (with a statutory presumption that resource consent will be required), aquaculture has a wide range of effects on the environment,3 including ecological values, natural character, landscape and amenity values, navigation and public access, wild (extractive) fisheries, and tangata whenua (Maori cultural) values. Such ‘individual’ effects aside, one of the key substantive difficulties for regional councils in New Zealand has been how to assess and manage cumulative effects associated with multiple marine farm installations. Again, the pace and magnitude of development appear to have far outstripped the information base necessary for that assessment in particular, and in November 2001 the Cabinet agreed that measures for the reform of the aquaculture management regime were essential. Consultation on reform policy proposals proceeded from that time.

Notwithstanding predictable industry opposition to the moratorium, all stakeholders are anxious to enable aquaculture to increase its contribution to the economy, whilst not undermining the fisheries management regime and Treaty of Waitangi settlements, and ensuring its adverse effects are properly managed.

The New Zealand experience provides a strong example of the difficulties faced by regulatory authorities, communities and a developing industry in providing for an activity at a time when expansion pressures are not managed by a fully informed and integrated decision-making process. Against that background, this paper outlines the manner in which aquaculture development has been approached in New Zealand to date, discusses the difficulties that have been identified, and summarises the response formulated by the Government.


Prior to the enactment of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), marine farming tenures were issued by way of lease or licence from the Crown, under the Marine Farming Act 1971. The RMA revoked the provisions of that Act relating to the issuing of new leases and licences, but provided for existing approvals to continue under transitional provisions.

The RMA extended regional council planning areas to include the land and sea from mean high water springs to the 12 mile seaward limit, terming that area the Coastal Marine Area. Regional councils were required to prepare regional coastal plans relating to the coastal marine area under their jurisdiction, and to provide for marine farming where considered appropriate. Among other things, these plans are intended to regulate the activities that may take place in the coastal marine area, and to take into account effects marine farming may have on the environment. Broadly speaking, this is consistent with the shift in thinking the RMA was designed to usher in; being "effects-based" planning, rather than prescriptive, "activity-based" planning.

Subsequently, a 1993 amendment to the Fisheries Act 1983 provided that no person could establish a new marine farming venture unless they had obtained a marine farming permit under that Act. However, a permit could not be issued unless the applicant already held a resource consent (or consents), or certificate of compliance,4 from the relevant regional council. Misgivings about this duplication have formed part of the background to current reform mechanisms, which are designed to result in an integrated approach to coastal planning, aquaculture development and fisheries management. Reform proposals are covered in more detail later in this paper.


The by-line for this section of the 2002 Conference is "Aquaculture: Creating more problems than it is solving?", which begs the question: what problems does aquaculture solve? As industry pundits note, demand for seafood products continues to rise, and at a time when the world’s traditional wild catch fisheries have reached, or will shortly reach their maximum sustainable yields. In fact, industry sources estimate that the annual shortfall in fishery products is approximately 30 million tonnes worldwide on current combined wild / farmed yields.

First, expanded aquaculture clearly has the potential to redress this shortfall, and at the same time to contribute to the sustainable management of wild fishery stocks. In fact, the New Zealand Aquaculture Council suggests that production from aquaculture is projected to overtake the "capture fishery" by 2020.

Further, because aquaculture must by its nature occur in relatively undeveloped coastal areas5 which are also effectively "rural", local employment opportunities in key aquaculture areas are significant at a micro level. The rapid rise of aquaculture is also reflected in its contribution to the national economy. For example, export sales were NZ$27m in 1989, and $210m in 2000,6 and are projected to reach $568m by 2010 and over $1b by 2020. By that time, it is also estimated that an additional 9,000 full time employment opportunities will have been created.7

The domestic economic drivers are therefore readily apparent, although the worldwide contribution aquaculture will make to meeting fishery product demands does perhaps remain to be seen. Further, although the Aquaculture Council claims that the financial and employment returns require "only 0.1% of New Zealand’s territorial waters", that figure could translate to approximately 44,600 square kilometres, depending on which base figure is used. Although it is unlikely that the Aquaculture Council intended to refer to such a large domain, the area involved is substantial, particularly when confined to coastal and near-coastal areas.

Secondly, properly developed and managed, aquaculture is a ‘sustainable’ industry. That is particularly so in comparison with wild catch fisheries. History shows that many key fisheries have been over-exploited to dangerous levels, with the Northern Hemisphere cod fishery providing perhaps the most salient illustration of this. Equally, much is still not known about many wild fishery species, deep sea species life cycles and population bases in particular. In contrast, although there remain some significant information ‘gaps’ in relation to the effects of aquaculture, marine farming stacks up as far more predictable, and therefore manageable, in sustainability terms. Thirdly, and as a result, the expansion of aquaculture may relieve some of the pressure on wild fishery stocks, and so allow those to recover.

Ultimately, however, whilst industry and government officials are keen to facilitate aquaculture development, there are also clear environmental imperatives which they, and other stakeholders, agree need to be addressed.


One of the key (and most pressured) areas of aquaculture development in New Zealand is at the top of the South Island – the Nelson / Marlborough area, which includes the clean, deep water Marlborough Sounds. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that some of the key RMA case-law has dealt with regional coastal plan provisions and resource consent applications in this area.8

These cases, and much of the discussion surrounding current reform initiatives, deal with the following key (coastal) planning issues:

  • Allocation of space in the coastal marine area;
  • Effects on the environment;
  • Zoning considerations;
  • Wild catch fishery conflicts; and
  • Procedural uncertainties.

Allocation of space in the coastal marine area

Although property rights in relation to land exist independently of the RMA, and are governed by separate statutory and common law mechanisms, space in the coastal marine area is allocated for occupation by regional councils acting as agents for the Crown. However, partly because that space is "free", the lack of defined allocation standards has led to what the Ministry for the Environment has termed a ‘gold rush’.

This ‘gold rush’ occurred due to a combination of three related factors. First, the default rule for the allocation of space in the coastal marine area is ‘first-in first-served’,9 in that the first application in time has priority.10

Secondly, and as noted, space in the coastal marine area is ‘free’ for the most part. That is, although the RMA does empower regional councils to make and levy coastal occupation charges,11 the majority of current coastal planning instruments do not incorporate relevant provisions. Accordingly, the bulk of applicants for coastal occupation permits have only had to meet the cost of preparing and lodging an application in order to gain ‘priority’ for coastal space. Preparing and lodging applications is of course not necessarily a cheap undertaking, but the incentive has been for applicants to lodge documentation quickly, and without either a thorough assessment of environmental effects or consultation with potentially affected parties.

Thirdly, there has been no limit on the amount of space in the coastal marine area that an individual applicant could apply for, as until the current reform proposals were under consideration, it was not clear whether limiting the amount of space that could be applied for was lawful under the RMA’s "effects-based" regime. As such, at the time the moratorium was imposed in March this year, there were marine farm applications relating to over 47,000 hectares of coastal space in the processing queue. (That figure is all the more notable by comparison with the 10,000 hectares of marine farms already in place).

This gold rush naturally placed the relevant regional councils in a difficult position, given that they had neither the resources nor the experience to deal with applications in such volume, or which raised issues and effects that appeared far more complex than when the aquaculture industry was in its infancy.

The only alternative to ‘first-in first served’ under the RMA was "coastal tendering", but that can only be activated by the Crown, acting through the Minister of Conservation. Part VII of the RMA enables the Minister of Conservation to effect a moratorium on coastal occupation applications where "there is, or is likely to be, … competing demands for the use of [the] area…".12 Were that done, the Minister could then set up a tendering regime to deal with the competing demand. However these coastal tendering provisions have never been used – primarily because, by the time the Minister is in a position to form a view that there is "likely" to be competing demand for coastal space, applications for the relevant resource consents will almost always have already been made. Tendering at that stage would obviously be too late, because it could not apply to the existing applications which led to the Minister’s decision being made.

As a result, although competition for space in the coastal marine area has for obvious reasons been fierce in the most ‘popular’ marine farming areas, regional councils have lacked clear and coherent mechanisms for allocating that space in a manner that is fair to applicants, and appropriate in terms of avoiding, remedying or mitigating the environmental effects which result.13

Effects on the environment

As well as resource consent to occupy the coastal marine area, New Zealand marine farming applicants also require consents for coastal structures, coastal discharges, disturbing the sea bed and other aspects of the aquaculture activity. The nominal effects on the environment of these activities are relatively widely known, although the nature and degree of them in individual cases naturally varies.

A recent decision of our Environment Court illustrates the full range of effects at play, and also addresses the key point that although separate effects may be minor in themselves, cumulatively they can be significant enough to warrant the regional council (and the Court itself on appeal) declining to grant the resource consent(s) sought.

In Kuku Mara Partnership (Forsyth Bay) v Marlborough District Council,14 the Environment Court considered a deep water mid-bay application proposed to cover a 42 hectare area. In reaching its decision to decline the consents sought, the Court heard evidence on the following effects:

  • Ecological:

  • Current attenuation;
  • Benthic (sediment disposition, organic enrichment, spread of disease);
  • Marine processes (phytoplankton growth, shell drop, degradation of coastal water quality, and alteration to foreshore and seabed);
  • Bird life (cormorant feeding grounds);
  • Marine mammals (seals, dolphins, whales);

  • Natural character, landscape / seascape and amenity:

  • Relevant whether or not the environment has already been "modified" by human intervention)15;
  • Views from land and from the sea;

  • Navigation and access:

  • Health and safety (navigational routes, sheltered anchorages, night navigation, tourist vessels, water skiing, recreational fishing, and seabed cable routes);
  • Public access to the coastal marine area;

  • Cumulative effects.

Many pages of the Court’s decision are devoted to discussion of each effect, although those relating to public access and ‘cumulative effects’ are of the most interest for the purposes of this discussion.

As noted above, space in the coastal marine area is ‘free’. A key reason for that is that unhindered public access to our coastal resources is of great importance to New Zealanders. It is recognised in Principle 5 of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, which provides that the coastal marine area is public open space, and is expected to generally be available for free public use and enjoyment.16 At the same time, the pressure on the coastal marine area in terms of marine farm occupation has reinforced the fact that such occupation ‘alienates’ space otherwise available to the general public for its ‘use and enjoyment’.

Accordingly, as more coastal space is ‘removed’ from the public side of the ledger, particularly in a country the size of New Zealand, public access issues assume greater importance in tandem with concerns about the mechanics of allocating space in the coastal marine area.

Turning to cumulative effects, the first point is that, as detailed by the Environment Court in Kuku Mara Partnership, these are effects that will, not may, occur. They may be as a result of the gradual build up of consequences, or arise by combination with other effects to create an overall composite effect. Accordingly, effects that may not in themselves be major or sufficiently adverse may, over time and in combination with other effects, combine to be significant.

The second, and currently more important point is that there is a general lack of information about the cumulative effects of marine farming. Experts cannot predict the effect of large-scale marine farming on ecological values; the biggest uncertainty being the effect on the "carrying capacity" of the marine environment, in terms of the phytoplankton needed to sustain it. Because phytoplankton populations are subject to natural variations, effective monitoring of marine farming effects requires baseline information about the nutrient and its ebb and flow. Naturally, it takes time to accumulate baseline information, and further time to process and interpret it. To date, regional councils have not possessed this ‘knowledge’, and have been significantly handicapped in their consideration of aquaculture consent applications as a result.

Naturally, these difficulties have further complicated the task faced by regional councils in reaching, and then justifying planning decisions, and the Environment Court itself is only starting to come to grips with the wider planning issues. As a result, caution has at times prevailed,17 and in the Golden Bay Marine Farmers case, it was determined that marine farming should only proceed 50 hectares at a time in each zoned block, and that the results of monitoring ecological triggers should determine whether and how far farmed areas should be permitted to expand in future.

Ultimately, regional councils, the Environment Court, applicants and the relevant Ministries alike have been, and for some time will no doubt continue to be faced with both procedural and substantive concerns about environmental effects and how they are to be assessed. At the present time, however, it is clear that lack of information about cumulative effects has played an important role in the Government’s decision to effect a moratorium, and to propose reform measures.

Zoning considerations

An additional factor in the moratorium decision was that, for the most part, aquaculture has not been confined to discrete zones. In some coastal planning instruments for example, aquaculture is a "discretionary activity" in most of the coastal marine area. Because no clear direction is given by such categorisation, this approach has been termed ‘ad hoc’ in some quarters.

A stark contrast is thus struck with the approach taken by submitters to the proposed coastal plan in the Tasman District (adjacent to Marlborough). Those submitters advocated discrete zones for aquaculture, with "prohibited activity" status everywhere else. That approach was initially disputed by the regional council itself, and illustrates a general reluctance to accept the idea of zoning and prohibited activity status outside the zones.

Contrastingly, economic evidence led in cases on land had established that zoning for industrial activities (for example) can have significant costs, because the relevant council will rarely, if ever, have optimum information to determine where given activities can take place most efficiently at any given point in time. Equally, prohibited activity status is seen as raising the stakes, because it makes zoning highly inflexible.

However, the Court in Golden Bay Marine Farmers did conclude that zoning discrete "Aquaculture Management Areas" with prohibited activity status outside these areas was appropriate, and directed the regional council to draft appropriate amendments to its proposed regional coastal plan. This approach was justified in part by the presumptions in the RMA that the coastal marine area should be retained for public use and enjoyment, and that matters such as ecological values and natural character / amenity values are worthy of protection because of the high value attributed to them by the community.

Leading in to the current reform proposals, it is clear that considering zoning issues has forced the Environment Court to make difficult decisions, partly on the basis of economic evidence, and in particular about how much space is needed for a commercially ‘viable’ marine farming industry. The Court had to look at commercial factors to determine the size of the zones, including production targets and the area estimated to be required to meet them at various distances from the shore.

Wild catch fishery conflicts

A further factor in the reform process is the conflict between aquaculture and fishing interests. In some parts of the wider Nelson / Marlborough area, concerns about natural character, landscape and visual amenity meant aquaculture should not take place close to the shore. However, proposed planning requirements that would locate aquaculture ventures off-shore placed marine farming in conflict with the wild scallop fishery in particular. These conflicts with wild fisheries relate to both spatial conflicts, ‘ecological’ conflicts (shell drop (and deposition of other material) onto the seabed, nutrient flow and the attraction of predator species such as seals in particular), and ‘concerns’ about the potential use of marine farms to disguise disposal of illegally harvested wild fish, and the spread of disease or pests from marine farm stocks.

However, due to the requirements of permit processes under the Fisheries Act, the Environment Court decided in the Golden Bay Marine Farmers case that it could not consider impacts on the scallop fishery. That was on the basis that those impacts are properly considered later when a marine farming permit or spat catching permit is applied for under the Fisheries Act. Obviously, this result is not ideal in terms of an holistic approach to assessment of environmental effects. It also creates uncertainty for the aquaculture industry in that, even when the RMA process is complete, there is no guarantee that a marine farming permit will be obtained under the Fisheries Act 1983; the final key factor leading to the moratorium, and reform proposals.

Procedural uncertainties

Because the allocation and sustainability of fisheries resources is addressed under fisheries legislation, and the sustainability of natural resources is addressed under the RMA, the resulting ‘two permit process’ can produce decisions that are unsatisfactory from marine farming, fishing, and environmental perspectives. As noted, regional councils allocate coastal space for marine farms and related uses (activities) under the RMA, and marine farmer applicants must subsequently also obtain a permit under the Fisheries Act before they are able to commence marine farming activity. Again, the decision under the Fisheries Act is made after resource consents are issued, and it deals with the impact of the proposed farm on fishing and the sustainability of any fisheries resource.

The central issue is thus that parallel decision-making processes have not allowed the full range of options for use of space in the coastal marine area to be considered by the decision-makers. Ideally, the approvals process should consider and assess effects on the environment, and the interests of coastal communities, marine farmers and wild catch fisheries at one time.

Under the present regime, however, regional councils are unable to consider the impacts of aquaculture development on fishing and fisheries resources for utilisation purposes under the RMA process. As a result, they are unable to weigh up all of the competing uses of the coastal marine area. The fact that councils do not have regard to all information relating to impacts on fisheries when considering applications for aquaculture development therefore increases the likelihood of conflict arising between aquaculture developers and wild catch fishers when applicants get to the marine farm permit process under the Fisheries Act. That is because it is only at that stage that regard can be had to the location of fishing grounds.

There is accordingly significant potential for uncertainty and cost duplication because each process deals with the ecological impacts of fishing, when ideally they should only be considered once, by specialist bodies. This affects not only marine farming applicants, but also other groups in the community with an interest in the use of coastal marine area space and agencies with responsibilities for planning.

Concerns about duplication of effects assessment, cost burdens, combined with the need for an holistic approach to coastal space allocation issues have therefore played an integral part in the call for reform.


Having considered the above issues and concerns, the Government agreed that existing processes under the RMA, the Marine Farming Act and the Fisheries Act fail to provide an integrated planning and decision-making framework that can manage issues relating to the carrying capacity of marine ecosystems, whilst also allowing greater national benefit to be realised from the allocation and use of space in the coastal marine area. In particular, as noted above, the interface between the RMA and the Fisheries Act prevents regional councils from considering the impact aquaculture development may have on wild catch fisheries.

Accordingly, a moratorium was placed on marine farm applications to give regional councils ‘breathing space’ to prepare for the new regime that will be created by aquaculture reforms intended to be introduced into parliament before the end of the year. Options for reform have been under consideration at government level since the 1990s, and the Government determined that a two-year moratorium was appropriate, in that it would:

  • prevent councils being inundated with applications before the reforms take effect; and
  • allow councils time to create Aquaculture Management Areas in their coastal plans.

Prior to the moratorium coming into effect, the Government approved in principle six aquaculture reform policy papers (in November 2001). Broadly, the papers sought decisions on:

  1. Changing the interface between the RMA and fisheries legislation so that regional councils are required to consider all environmental effects, including the impact marine farming has on the aquatic environment and the use and sustainability of fisheries resources, when they are providing for aquaculture in regional coastal plans;
  2. Streamlining the application and environmental assessment process for new marine farms by providing a single-permit approval process to be operated under the RMA;
  3. Providing regional councils with greater powers to manage and control the development of aquaculture by requiring marine farm developments to take place within clearly defined Aquaculture Management Areas (AMA);
  4. Providing regional councils with additional rule-making powers to deal with competition for coastal space between all activities, including the power to limit the amount of coastal space that can be applied for within an AMA;
  5. Providing tendering provisions for regional councils to tender for the right to apply for coastal permits, including those for individual marine farm sites within each AMA, as the default mechanism for the allocation of coastal space;
  6. Providing for regional councils to retain 50% of the tender money to provide appropriate planning incentives and for use in improving the management of the coastal marine area.

The foundation of these suggested reforms is the proposal to collapse parallel processes into one. However, because regional councils do not currently have sufficient skills and knowledge to enable them to be the sole agency considering all of the environmental impacts of aquaculture, a key element of the proposed reform to streamline the application process for new marine farms is to have the Ministry of Fisheries (and other agencies) provide more input at the start of the planning process when AMAs are identified for new marine farm development.

Under the current regime, the Minister of Fisheries may provide guidance to regional councils. The Minister must be consulted on fisheries management and the management of aquaculture in the development of regional coastal plans, although detailed advice on the impact of new marine farm developments on the sustainability of fisheries is commonly provided on a site-by-site basis through the marine farming permit regime. Under the proposed reforms, this advice will be provided to councils earlier on in the RMA process, when AMAs are established.

In terms of AMA establishment, the Government’s view is that the current approach to coastal planning needs to be modified in order to better reflect the public open space presumption in the coastal marine area. It proposes a more prescriptive planning approach to make it clear that occupation of coastal space is to be properly controlled. While the RMA already contains a presumption against allowing occupation of coastal space, a minor amendment to the RMA is intended to ensure that the law on this point is clear. Strengthening this presumption in law will thus ensure that occupation of coastal space is controlled properly by regional coastal plan provisions, including appropriate rules and zones. In addition, provision will be made in the law for aquaculture development to occur only within an AMA. (That restriction may later be extended to other occupations, but is not currently proposed).

Further, AMAs are intended to be for specified types of aquaculture (such as long line shellfish, caged fish, or spat catching). Where possible, performance standards are to be defined and the specified type of aquaculture within these zones may be a "controlled activity".18 Marine farming applicants will then know where they could apply for consents to occupy, and that the consent will be approved subject to conditions. In turn, this is intended to mean greater certainty in terms of RMA outcome for all parties, and avoid some of the stresses being felt by the community (including disenchantment with the planning process), and the transaction costs involved with considering applications on a case-by-case basis. Other stakeholders (including wild catch fishers and the community) would also have their interests considered at the regional coastal plan preparation stage, and so not need to make submissions on a series of applications lodged in the coastal marine area. At the same time, in order for an AMA to be effective, the use of the area outside the AMAs for aquaculture must be prohibited. The prohibited areas, effectively aquaculture exclusion areas, mean other users of the coastal marine area are protected from continual incremental expansion of marine farming installations.

Lastly, the reforms propose that within the AMAs, new rules and mechanisms will be put in place to allocate the available coastal space. As discussed earlier, under the current regime, regional councils must process the first application received for a given area, even if this covers all of the available space. Options for future allocation within AMAs include balloting or tendering. From the Government’s perspective, tendering areas within AMAs has the advantage of identifying the highest valued use, whilst also generating revenue. For that reason, it proposes that within AMAs tendering would be the default approach to allocation of coastal space for private use. Any alternatives to tendering in AMAs would need to be established through provisions in the relevant regional coastal plan.

Further, any tender would be for the right to lodge an application for a resource consent. Beyond that, the AMA would give greater certainty, particularly where controlled activity status is possible. Regional coastal plans would also indicate the likely conditions that would be applied, including the term of any resource consent19 and, in limited circumstances, whether the site would be subject to re-tender at the end of the term. Any tender money would be returned if the applicant’s application for a resource consent is not granted.

Broadly, tendering is therefore intended to be an instrument to implement regional coastal plan provisions, and it is intended that regional councils would run the tender process. The legislation would provide that where a regional council establishes an AMA, it must allocate the right to apply for consent to occupy blocks of a size determined by the council within the AMA by tender. Either coastal plans or the tender documents will indicate whether the intent is to re-tender the block at end of a specified period, and regional councils will be given guidance on re-tendering and any Treaty of Waitangi implications that has. In the event that areas are intended to be provided as part of Treaty settlements, this would be done through specific legislation implementing the individual settlement concerned.


In summary, it is clear that the rapid expansion of aquaculture in New Zealand has created significant problems for regulatory authorities, applicants, and potential submitters alike. Deficiencies in the mechanisms for allocating space in the coastal marine area, together with a slowness in fully appreciating differences between land-based and coastal marine planning issues have contributed to a ‘gold rush’ halted only by the imposition of a moratorium. Difficulties in scientific predictions on the effect of large-scale marine farming on coastal ecological values have also proven to be an obstacle to integrated, and fully informed decision-making.

The Government’s response seeks to address these issues in a single reform package, with the objectives of:

  • Equitable distribution of the inshore fishery resource;
  • Conserving fisheries resources;
  • Reducing conflict among maritime user groups and fishery user groups;
  • Avoiding undermining the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Deed of Settlement;
  • Recognising the legitimate rights of commercial and customary fisheries stakeholders; and
  • Ensuring that the adverse effects of aquaculture are properly managed.

The proposed reform package comprises a more prescriptive, managed approach to aquaculture activities, and will incorporate guidance from central government agencies on how to limit the cumulative environmental effects of marine farming.

There is no doubt that a more streamlined, efficient, and informed application process is necessary. However, whilst the proposals provide clearer direction to, and responsibilities for the regulatory agencies involved, it remains to be seen how those proposals will in practice resolve existing difficulties in allocating space in the coastal marine area, and then managing the activities that occur in areas set aside. One aspect of the process that has not yet attracted much attention is the fact that putting in place the envisaged regional coastal plan provisions is likely to take several years, especially given past experience with finalising such plans through hearings before regional councils and the Environment Court. Aquaculture industry figures have already expressed concern that the Government has put the brakes on a developing industry too hard, and further complaints about delay and cost must be expected in the future

Nevertheless, the present initiatives are a step in the right direction, and are the result of several years of review and consideration. It is therefore to be hoped that regional councils move forward pro-actively with their new powers and responsibilities (when those are settled and enacted), and that appropriate support is given to them by the Government.


The authors acknowledge the use of material available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website in the preparation of this paper, and recommend the link below to readers interested in reviewing the full reform proposals in particular.


Resource Management Act ("Salmon"), Auckland, Data Services Ltd, 1991

Resource Management, Wellington, Brooker’s 1991.

Internet Sites

Ministry for the Environment: www.

Ministry for Fisheries:

Trade New Zealand:

New Zealand Seafood Industry:


1 The Rock Oyster Farming Act 1964, and the Marine Farming Act 1968.

2 Pursuant to the Resource Management (Aquaculture Moratorium) Amendment Act 2002 passed on 25 March 2002.

3 "Environment" is defined in the Resource Management Act 1991 as including:

(a) Ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities; and

(b) All natural and physical resources; and

(c) Amenity values; and

(d) The social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs (a) to (c) of this definition or which are affected by those matters.

4 Certificates of compliance confirm that activities are "permitted", and may be undertaken without resource consent.

5 Even so, currently, an oyster farming area in the northern part of the North Island is under threat of closure due to poorly managed sewage discharges to the coastal marine area. Faecal coliform and related bacterial counts are such that both the local industry and individual livelihoods are at stake.

6 Albeit that this figure represents only 0.28% of GDP. However, it forms a significant proportion of total New Zealand fisheries exports, which were NZ$1.48b in 2000. Source; Trade New Zealand.

7 Source; "Vision 2020", New Zealand Aquaculture Council Inc.

8 See, for example, Golden Bay Marine Farmers v Tasman District Council, W 42/01, Environment Court, 27 April 2001; and Kuku Mara Partnership (Forsyth Bay) v Marlborough District Council, W 25/02, Environment Court, 16 July 2002 respectively.

9 The same ‘rule’ operates in relation to all resources under the RMA.

10 Determined by the New Zealand Court of Appeal in Fleetwing Farms Limited v Marlborough District Council [1997] 3 NZLR 257; [1997] NZRMA 385.

11 Since a 1997 amendment to the RMA.

12 Section 152(4)(a) of the RMA.

13 The purpose of the RMA, stated in section 5 of the Act, requires applicants and functionaries to "promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources" by avoiding, remedying or mitigating adverse effects on the environment.

14 W 25/02, 16 July 2002. Marlborough District Council was the respondent, rather than a regional council, as it is a "unitary authority" – it performs the role and functions of both a district and a regional council under the RMA.

15 Harrison v Tasman District Council [1994] NZRMA 193; Trio Holdings v Marlborough District Council, (1996) ELRNZ 353.

16 "Access" has the added dimension of access by Tangata Whenua to their traditional seafood harvesting areas. See Aqua King Ltd (Anakoha Bay) v Marlborough District Council, W 71/97, Environment Court, 30 June 1997.

17 Possibly, but not expressly, in accordance with "the precautionary principle".

18 That is, approval (resource consent) must be granted, subject only to the regional council’s discretion to impose conditions in certain defined categories.

19 Resource consents cannot be granted for a period in excess of 35 years under the RMA; section 123.

The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on in that way. Specific advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions