Splashing the Cash at Aquaculture

But is Aquaculture a Sunset Industry Like Oil and Gas?

In the last 12 months, we have seen overwhelming evidence that the oceans around New Zealand have been warming to an alarming degree.  Last summer we had a marine heatwave, and the latest data shows that once again the summer sea temperatures around New Zealand are extreme. So why are our rates and taxes being splashed around for aquaculture, which because of increasingly warm oceans may turn out to be a sunset industry?

Our oceans have warmed significantly in the last decade

This world map highlights that even on a global scale, New Zealand is experiencing extreme ocean warming.

global sea warming

Studies have shown that the number of marine heatwave days has increased by 54% from 2025 to 2016 with an accelerating trend since 1982.  Also, the duration of marine heat waves has grown by 17%

trends in marine heat waves

The damaging impact on our fish stocks, the aquaculture industry and our marine ecosystems has been raised by many commentators.

There have been reports of warmer temperatures killing off salmon in the Marlborough Sounds forcing the industry to review its harvest and to turn the dead salmon into compost.

Studies have shown that New Zealand aquaculture industries will find it much more difficult to grow fish or mussels.  Areas with substantial kelp canopies will start to be replaced by species normally seen further north

Marine biologists have recorded how mussels were falling from their ropes on marine farms due to the excess water temperature.  Production levels are significantly lower for mussels due to the high sea temperatures.

Acidification of the ocean is another serious threat to the aquaculture industry.

The Firth of Thames has recorded sea temperatures of 23°C – some of the highest in the country

Sea temperatures

There’s essentially no limit to how much more heat from the atmosphere the oceans can absorb: they’re huge and deep. But the ocean has a long memory, and the heat it sucks up now will be stuck in the system for hundreds or even thousands of years.

How is it then that in full knowledge that there are serious climate-change-related threats to the marine farming and aquaculture industries, our Council and central government are still splashing the cash and promoting what may be a doomed industry? 

TCDC is actively promoting new harbour developments to support the aquaculture industry.  And government Minister Shane Jones seems eager to throw millions of dollars from the Provincial Growth Fund at an industry which may have a limited future.

Because of climate change, the government has declared oil and gas exploration a sunset industry.  Now we need both local and central government to recognise the well-documented dangers from climate change to the marine farming and agriculture industry and stop throwing our money at what may well be – like oil and gas – another sunset industry.

These funds would be far better spent on setting up a climate change adaptation fund to assist people who are going to be badly impacted by climate change, or to ensure coastal infrastructure is maintained, or be put towards better research into climate change impacts on communities.