Aquaculture in New Zealand developed in a haphazard fashion, with regional councils initially giving little thought to the cumulative impact of marine farms on the coastal environment. By 2001, marine farms occupied 4,000 hectares of coastal waters – about the size of a large sheep farm. Some councils had become inundated by applications for marine farms, and it was evident that guidelines were needed to manage the coast in a sustainable manner.
On 21 March 2002 the government imposed a ban on new farms in coastal marine areas while they carried out a major reform of aquaculture legislation. The aim of the reform was to streamline application processes for marine and freshwater farms, which operated under a dual licensing system overseen by regional councils and the Ministry of Fisheries. Established farmers objected to the ban – they believed that delaying expansion and diversification would jeopardise the industry. Māori groups felt that they were disproportionately affected, as they were major applicants for new marine farms. Since the moratorium was announced, the New Zealand government has also had to consider Māori claims for ownership of the seabed and foreshore.
There is a great demand for seafood worldwide, and New Zealand is well placed to satisfy some of this. However, the industry relies on low-value filter-feeding shellfish (mussels and Pacific oysters). There is potential for the industry to diversify into farming high-value species such as pāua, kingfish and crayfish. These species require a special food supply and are more expensive to farm, but they can be sold at a higher price.
With new legislative reforms to safeguard the environment, New Zealand aquaculture should continue to flourish.