National environmental standards for marine aquaculture

The national environmental standards for marine aquaculture (NES-MA) provide consistent regulations to manage existing marine farms around New Zealand. Find out more about the NES-MA.

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National environmental standards

National environmental standards are regulations made under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). They:

  • set out technical standards, methods, or requirements relating to matters under the RMA
  • provide consistent rules across the country by setting planning requirements for certain activities.

A national environmental standard replaces regional plan rules, except, as in the case of the NES-MA, where it allows regional council rules to remain in force.

Purpose of the NES-MA

Marine aquaculture contributes significantly to regional development. Many marine farm consents will expire between 2020 and 2025.

Marine aquaculture is managed under the RMA, and the rules for considering replacement consent applications vary between regions. This creates regulatory uncertainty. There is also a risk that environmental impact assessments may not always consider the same things.

The NES-MA were established to:

  • increase regulatory consistency and certainty
  • ensure environmental effects are appropriately managed
  • increase industry confidence to promote investment.

Development of the NES-MA was an important action of the Government’s Aquaculture Strategy.

Aquaculture Strategy

The NES-MA will come into force on 1 December 2020.

How the NES-MA works

The NES-MA will make sure marine farms meet best environmental practice while providing a more certain and efficient process for:

  • replacement consents for existing marine farms
  • realignment
  • change of species applications.

It does this by:

  • making applications for replacement consents for existing marine farms a restricted discretionary activity if the farm is in an area that a regional coastal plan has not identified as inappropriate for existing aquaculture
  • making applications for replacement consents for existing marine farms a discretionary activity if the farm is in an area that a regional coastal plan has identified as inappropriate for existing aquaculture
  • allowing regional councils to make it easier to get a replacement consent for most existing marine farms
  • allowing regional councils to make it harder to get a replacement consent for existing marine farms in areas where regional coastal plans have determined that existing aquaculture is inappropriate
  • allowing small-scale realignments and changes in approved species during applications for replacement consents
  • specifying what councils must consider when determining replacement consent applications for existing marine farms
  • restricting public or limited notification for replacement consent applications except:
    • applications that include realignment
    • species changes that require changes in surface structures
    • species changes that involve finfish
    • applications in areas that a council has identified as inappropriate for existing aquaculture
  • establishing a process for engaging with tangata whenua to find out what they think about a consent application, and taking this into account when the application is determined.

Biosecurity management plans

Cabinet initially agreed that the NES-MA would require all marine farms to have a biosecurity management plan in place by 2025. Since then, it has become clear that more work is needed to work out how to improve biosecurity across both marine and land-based aquaculture. MPI will provide advice to ministers on this by December 2020.

For now, the NES-MA will not include any requirement for marine farms to have biosecurity management plans. The NES-MA still enable councils to assess the biosecurity risks of existing marine farms when a replacement consent application is made.

Implementing the NES-MA

The NES-MA will come into force on 1 December 2020. Fisheries New Zealand is developing guidance to support the implementation of the standards. This guidance will be available on this page before the regulations come into force.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about the NES-MA, contact Fisheries New Zealand's aquaculture team:

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