Environmentalists worried about Government's marine farming plans

Environmentalists are concerned about a move to extend marine farming consents for 25 years, without consultation.

Twelve-thousand marine farms will get a blanket extension even if there are questions over their environmental integrity as climate change grips.

"We've already seen marine farms in the Marlborough Sounds hammered by the effects of climate change," said Forest and Bird spokesperson Richard Capie.

"We've seen them lose the ability to have the kind of fish farms that we know we want in the right places so why would we just close our eyes and just grant 25-year extensions without wanting to understand what is going on in that area."

The Marlborough Sounds is home to around 600 marine farms, mostly mussel and salmon, 50 of which have been earmarked as a concern for local environmental groups.

Two years ago three salmon farms in Marlborough closed due to rising sea temperatures, resulting in 1200 tonnes of dead fish and waste being dumped.

But the government wants to turn a $140 million-a-year industry into a $6 billion powerhouse.

"The consequences of the formation of this Government has been aquaculture is going to be turbocharged," said Fisheries Minister Shane Jones.

"I think we've just got to stop the eco-romanticisation and the colonial guilt."

It's come as a shock to one environmental group in the sounds. Trevor Offen of the Kenepuru and Central Sounds Residents Association said the previous Government had planned a system of compromise between aquaculture, local councils and environment groups.

"It's taken us a decade to get here and it's been a collaboration of industry and the public and, if this proposal goes ahead as planned, it will effectively do nothing more than warrant 25 more years of inappropriate activity," said Offen.

But his group, which represents around 300 households, is not giving in.

"We can't afford to do that. There's too much invested in this process. We only hope that reason will be seen and a more rational process is adopted to achieve what he's setting to achieve," said Offen.

People with interests in aquaculture got 10 days to comment, but key environmental groups say they were left in the dark. It was presented to them as a done deal.

Jones makes no apology.

"We should trust in the dynamism within the industry and stop catastrophising these modest changes," he said.

But Capie disagrees: "You've got to have checks and balances. You've got to look at what's happening in that marine space and we're already seeing that change coming through," he said.

It looks set to be a classic battle between environmentalists and a Government that says it's willing to make environmental trade-offs for the good of the economy.