Marine farm expansion in the Nelson Bays region would destroy an already fragile scallop industry, the head of a seafood development company says.
Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company chief executive John Reid said a legal challenge was now likely against a decision by the Ministry for Primary Industries to allocate sea space in Golden Bay and Tasman Bay for new aquaculture.
It follows years of planning and debate dating back to 1996.
Seven years ago the then Ministry for Fisheries approved 850 hectares for marine farms in the area. But groups with interests in scallops, oysters and wild fin fish argued that more marine farms would prevent access to their harvest areas.
They took their fight to the High Court and Court of Appeal and in 2013 the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was told to re-examine any potential impact on scallop fisheries should marine farms be expanded.
The MPI has now decided to make available 2109 hectares across eight sites in Golden Bay and one site in Tasman Bay.
"Following the judgement in 2013, we ran extended consultation with those affected by the original decision to ensure we had a good understanding of everyone's point of view.
"We also took the opportunity to review the latest science about the fishery," MPI deputy director Scott Gallagher said.
Mr Reid said the group was yet to talk with its lawyer, but it was likely a legal remedy would be sought against the latest decision.
"We're not against mussel farms, but it's the impact they have on our fisheries and the availability of space," he said.
Scallop beds in Golden Bay and Tasman Bay are currently not dredged, but are in recovery and Mr Reid said they were located in fragile environments, currently being nurtured in the hope they replenished.
He said the region's scallop fleet used to operate more than 60 vessels and that had now shrunk to about 10 vessels, mainly because of the sustainability of the extraction areas.
"Extra aquaculture space will kill this potential for recovery.
"Scallop fisherman have always supported mussel farming in the Tasman and Golden bays but it must be integrated management - not at the expense of one of the other.
"It doesn't need to be this way because there is plenty of room for both sectors. It's just a question of putting the farms in the right place," Mr Reid said.
Tasman District mayor Richard Kempthorne told Radio New Zealand it was a positive move, but it was only a step in the process.
He said if there were no appeals then consents could be lodged to operate marine farms in the new areas.
The types of seafood that might be farmed are subject to Tasman council rules. Mr Kempthorne said it was likely that the new areas would be used for mussel farming.
"All parties have invested heavily in this and we're looking forward to progress. The additional space will add to an area renowned for its product," he said.
Mr Kempthorne hoped that economic benefits of development would outweigh any negative impacts.
"There's a tremendous benefit for the local community in economic terms."
But Mr Reid said the MPI decision was short term and wrong in both law and in principle.