Locals fear mussel farming expansion plan could spoil Golden Bay's 'outstanding natural character'

A group of Golden Bay locals are opposing plans to encourage more mussels to their shores.

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Feedback’s being sought on a $28 million upgrade to the local port to cope with growth of marine farming. Source: 1 NEWS

Feedback is being sought on a $28 million upgrade to Port Tarakohe, which in its current state won't be able to cope with the imminent growth of marine farming at the top of the South Island.

Around 70 per cent of the country’s marine aquaculture occurs in the region, “so this area is really significant for New Zealand”, explains Marine Farming Association president Jonathan Large.

Eight-thousand tonnes of mussels currently land at the port, but with the creation of new farming space in Tasman and Golden Bay, it's set to bring in around 32,000 tonnes 10 years from now. 

Port Tarakohe in Golden Bay. Source: 1 NEWS

But Port Tarakohe, owned by Tasman District Council, can't handle that growth in its current state.

Tasman District Council Deputy Mayor Tim King says the port has been financially challenging “for a long period of time”. 

“It’s a small port, isolated location, not a huge number of potential users. Some of its biggest activities like rock and dolomite are quite irregular, so they're not a regular source of revenue."

Now a steering group involving iwi, key stakeholders and the council intends to apply to the Provincial Growth Fund to pay for most of the upgrade.

“It's got huge benefits for New Zealand Inc, but great benefits for the top of the South, particularly in Golden Bay. We've got just over 100 new jobs coming to Golden Bay over the next seven or eight years,” says Jonathan Large.

But some locals aren’t sold. The Port Tarakohe Impacts Group is worried the developments will spoil the “outstanding natural character” of Golden Bay.

Group member Rod Barker pointed out the disturbance of noise from marine vessels.

“They start up at around three to four in the morning quite often and wake people from their sleep, including myself," he says. 

He’s also concerned by what he’s found on the coastline.

“I've collected waste from around the beaches and I know that there's other people around Golden Bay that are finding various waste from either mussel buoys, ropes or cords."

Marine farming waste picked up from beach. Source: Port Tarakohe Impacts Group

Mr Large acknowledges some of the complaints around noise and waste are valid but the industry is “trying to do the best we can”. 

“We've got an environment programme in place which we've had in place for 10 years. We've got a lot of the industry guys out on the beach doing beach clean ups weekly and often daily. Not only our rubbish but also recreational rubbish as well."

He says they’re already working on reducing noise levels and have put “some steps in place to start that off just recently, around slowing vessels down when they’re heading in or out of the port”.

It's taken 18 years for the industry to gain consent for more farming and Mr Large says that process was “extensive”.

“It’s taken a lot of science, a lot of research, a lot of consultation with community and with all stakeholders."

Under the proposal, the upgrade will take place within the current physical footprint of the port.

Mr Large says Port Tarakohe is the only viable option.

Members of the Port Impacts Group want to support a development that could include a penguin observation, conservation projects, a public jetty, a cafe and a marine conservation information centre.

A separate but aligned business case is currently in the works to provide a cultural, heritage and tourism experience. 

Tim King says the proposed upgrade isn’t without risk to ratepayers.

“So much of it comes down to 'Will the predicted marine activity come to fruition?' and, 'How much of that is going to come over Port Tarakohe in the future?' and what the revenue is.”

The public will get to have their say on the Provincial Growth Fund application at a hearing in Takaka tomorrow.