‘No plan’ for aquaculture to replace Tiwai smelter

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Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker.

AQUACULTURE will not fill the Tiwai-shaped gap left in the Southland economy, the export minister told the business community in Invercargill this week.

The future of Southland aquaculture was discussed during a breakfast with the Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker on Tuesday.

Topics covered included Covid-19 recovery and Southland’s economy.

During the question and answer session, Southland aquaculture working group member Rex Chapman said the group had worked for many years to encourage aquaculture growth in Southland and the 2019 Aquaculture Strategy was “tailor-made” for the region.

However, he said the regulatory framework impeded growth.

“The RMA [Resource Management Act] has not worked for many parts of New Zealand and that is very true of aquaculture.”

He asked the minister what the plan was.

Mr Parker’s response was progress was being made, which included the National Environmental Standards on renewals for existing in-shore aquaculture.

However, he said an issue to be “worked out” was if aquaculture participants using public space would be required to pay the public for it.

“I think if they come forward with some ideas as to a rent they might pay, that will prevent the risk of land banking, or sea-bed banking, and some of the other things will flow more easily.”

The rent could be based on revenue or profit, with the minister having discussions with those in the industry.

“It is true there is significant potential for deep-sea aquaculture and, done well, it will bring jobs and earn export revenues and it won’t have a significant impact on the environment.”

The Westpac Economic Bulletin from August describes aquaculture as an industry identified as Southland’s “best near-term economic opportunity”, although it was doubtful whether it could fully compensate for the loss of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

Mr Parker agreed.

“I wouldn’t pitch aquaculture as being a substitute for Tiwai.

“I know of no plan to build a replacement factory that would produce something else that would employ the same number of people.”

When asked if there should have been a plan ready for what to do in the eventuality the smelter were to close he said “no”.

“I don’t think you can plan those things in the abstract.”

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