Publication Details

Gullett, W, Contesting the merits of aquaculture development: Port Stephens Pearls Pty Ltd v Minister for Infrastructure and Planning [2005] NSWLEC 426, Australasian Journal of Natural Resources Law and Policy, 11(1), 2006, 109-117.


Australia's aquaculture industry has grown rapidly since the mid-1990s. It has become the fastest growing industry in the primary sector and is a valuable contributor to development in regional areas. However, there is increasing community concern about the potential environmental impacts of aquaculture. Concerns vary enormously depending on the type of aquaculture activities but they typically include habitat modification, marine floor degradation, diminished water quality, disease, translocation of aquatic organisms, cumulative impacts and, particularly in highly populated coastal stretches (such as in New South Wales ('NSW')), effects on amenity values. The challenge is to develop an approval process for aquaculture proposals that ensures that likely and potential environmental impacts are avoided, reduced or otherwise managed while not unnecessarily restricting the development of the industry. Compounding this challenge is the fact that many coastal ecosystems are already subjected to a range of anthropogenic stresses. Further, most Australian aquaculture operations are marine based and therefore involve the use of public space. This involves the perceived or actual alienation of public space for private purposes. As a result, the regulatory framework for aquaculture must, in addition to assessing environmental impacts, aim to achieve a balance between aquaculture needs and other legitimate uses of the marine environment. (This is commonly referred to as 'Integrated Coastal Zone Management'.) There are Australian and state government efforts to promote the development of the aquaculture industry, yet there is often public opposition to proposals, especially where these are seen to conflict with other industries, notably tourism and recreational pursuits (such as yachting). Two recent NSW aquaculture proposals have polarised regional communities: the extension of mussel culture in Twofold Bay at Eden on the State's south coast, and approval of pearl farming in Port Stephens on the State's central coast. In Port Stephens Pearls Pty Ltd v Minister for Infrastructure and Planning [2005] NSWLEC 426 (decision 15 August 2005), the Land and Environment Court allowed the developer's appeal against the decision of the Minister to reject development consent. The Minister's decision had run counter to advice from his own department. The case highlights the protracted approval process for aquaculture development in NSW and how environmental issues are assessed and weighed by the Land and Enviromnent Court.

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