Salmon products from New Zealand King Salmon’s fish farms are marketed to consumers as a “green” choice. But latest monitoring results show three farms are falling short of environmental guidelines.

King Salmon operates salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds. A report published in May by the Marlborough District Council found three of five farms monitored last year were failing to meet voluntary environmental guidelines agreed to by the company and the council.

The report describes the seabed under King Salmon’s farm at Forsyth Bay as heavily polluted and “near azoic” (almost devoid of life). Sites at Otanerau Bay and Ruakaka had also deteriorated, the report said.

Commenting on the results, Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said there were “continued questions” whether some of the sites were ever going to comply with the guidelines.

“Some marine farms went into the water 30 years ago – and what was seen as appropriate then is no longer considered best practice,” he said.

These farms are in “low flow” areas where waste can build up beneath the salmon cages, covering the seabed.

King Salmon says it’s destocked Forsyth Bay and doesn’t plan to use the site for the next 12 months, and production at Otanerau and Ruakaka has been reduced by 50 percent. In a letter to the council in February, the company said it was unable to stop production at Ruakaka even for a short period.

The Ministry for Primary Industries and the Marlborough District Council have since set up a working group on implementing the guidelines.

King Salmon opened two new farms in the Marlborough Sounds in July.

Green claims

In 2013, we made a complaint to the Commerce Commission about environmental claims that were used in King Salmon’s marketing for its Regal- and Southern Ocean-brand salmon products. The commission subsequently issued King Salmon with compliance advice that two claims risked breaching the Fair Trading Act.

The commission considered the company’s claim that fish feed at the farms “replicates the diet of wild salmon” was potentially misleading as only a small proportion of the feed is derived from marine sources. The major part of their diet comes from abattoir by-products – off-cuts from poultry processing and bloodmeal from cattle, pigs and sheep.

The commission also found the company’s claim it used no medicines in its production process was potentially misleading as an anaesthetic is used to sedate fish prior to harvesting.