The Government is planning a Muldoon or Trump style “Government by regulation” move to use a previously-unused section of the Resource Management Act to over-ride  potential local objections to the relocation of nine salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

The move appears to be a test case which could see the same procedure being used to fast-track marine farms in other coastal locations around the country.

Some of the country’s most iconic tourism sites including Dusky Sound and bays on Stewart Island could be at risk.

The move is being seen as a major attempt by the Government to work its way around the Resource Management Act.

The Greens are calling it another centralisation of resource management powers and the Environmental Defence Society says it is ready to take the actions to the Courts for a Judicial review.

Meanwhile, local iwi, Te Tau Ihu customary fisheries forum chairman Richard Bradley said the plan was “not honourable”. 

Primary Industries Minister, Nathan Guy, was unwilling to discuss the issue with POLITIK but his press spokesperson said in a text message that it was the first time he has used these powers.

“It’s still in the early stages so it is too soon to say if it could have further use,” he said.

At the heart of the issue is a proposal from King Salmon to relocate six salmon farms in the Sounds.

On its website, the Ministry says the proposal provided for industry growth through more efficient use of marine farming space, rather than from creating additional new space.

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“ In short, it’s about getting better outcomes from the same amount of space,” it says.

In other words, more fish in the same space.

But it’s not the size of the farms which is the main issue – it’s where they are to be located.

Five would be moved into the Waitata Reach, a main entry channel into Pelorus Sound and the sixth would go to Queen Charlotte Sound on the south side of Arapawa Island, on the interislander route into Picton.

King Salmon and the Ministry argue that new water standards for marine famring in the Sounds mean that it would be better if the farms were moved to the new location where the water is deeper and faster moving.

But environmentalists are saying the new sites have priceless scenic and tourism values.

But rather than have that debate in front of a Planning Tribunal or the Environment Court, the Government has simply decided to use Muldoon-style order in Council regulation.

Green Party Environment spokesperson, Eugenie Sage, says the  Government’s move comes just as the Marlborough District Council is about to start its review of its district plan.

“So this initiative cuts right across that,” she told POLITIK.

“It’s another example of the huge centralisation of power under this government in anything that relates to the Resource Management Act.

“It gives the Ministers the decision making power rather than the Council and the local community.

 “Salmon farming in the Sounds has been a fraught and complex issue, but the RMA has provided a good system with checks and balances, like the Environment Court, where the conflicts between high natural landscape, natural character, areas with high recreational value, the issues around the forestry, etc. can all be dealt with.

“But under this special process, there aren’t those safeguards.”

The “special process” is Clause 360 of the RMA which was inserted in 2011 and allows the Government to amend provisions in a regional coastal plan that relate to the management of aquaculture activities in the coastal marine area.

The Act does not say which Minister should do the regulation and both Sage and Gary Taylor from the Environment Defence Society have questioned why it is not the Environment Minister who has the responsibility.

Taylor said he was concerned that the Government might use the clause again to allow salmon farms in Dusky Sound and Stewart Island where King Salmon were known to be interested in creating new farms.

“I think that what is required is a national strategy for marine farms which looks at these issues in the round,” he told POLITIK.

Taylor said that Dusky Sound was probably one of the most pristine parts of “the entire planet”.

“Our concern is that it is very hard to try and defend landscape values compared with being able to defend the economic benefits.

“But those landscape values are part of what makes us unique as a country.”

The EDS will try and take the argument for the landscape values to special hearings which will be held to consider the King Salmon application.

Though the hearings will be chaired by a retired Environment Court judge, Sage is worried about who might be appointed to the hearings panel.

Taylor says that once the regulation is made – if it is ultimately made – then it will be subject to judicial review and the EDS would want that to happen.

But what is clear already is that once again salmon farming in the Marlborough Sounds is going to be the subject of an epic environmental battle.