“The Government has high expectations for aquaculture, the law reforms and the new Unit, and we must deliver results and value. ”
In late August, 2010 Dan Lees was appointed Director of the newly formed Aquaculture Unit within the Ministry of Fisheries. Dan has worked for the Ministry of Fisheries since 1999 and has held the positions of Aquaculture Manager and Central Inshore Fisheries Manager. As Aquaculture Manager, Dan made over 200 decisions on new aquaculture sites, worked on the development of international standards for wild catch fishing and aquaculture, and led a government group tasked with assisting the economic development of the aquaculture industry.
Q) You led trekking groups through the Himalayas and Eastern Europe before moving to New Zealand – do you see any similarities in climbing mountains to the challenge of leading the Aquaculture Unit?
A)Leading groups in remote locations is a challenge. People pay money to trek in the mountains and you need to meet their expectations. Leading the Aquaculture Unit will also be a challenge, but one I am looking forward to. The Government has high expectations for aquaculture, the law reforms and the new Unit, and we must deliver results and value. The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture has made this very clear.
Q) Can you briefly explain what is the Aquaculture Unit and why has it been created?
A) The Aquaculture Unit is the Government’s principal advisor on marine and land-based aquaculture. The Unit is within the Ministry of Fisheries because the Ministry is tasked with supporting aquaculture growth, a key part of the Government’s economic growth agenda. The Unit will ensure better coordination and prioritisation of the actions needed across government agencies to help the aquaculture industry grow.
Q) Industry and Government have expressed similar desires for growth. How do you think the government/industry relationship should work?
A) The relationship between the Unit, industry and other stakeholders needs to be candid and close. We need to be able to work together to identify opportunities for the sector – both land-based and marine. Through the Aquaculture Unit we hope to strengthen relationships with all stakeholders, including Maori, local communities, wild fisheries, researchers, environmental interests, and other user groups. It’s going to take all of us to develop sustainable aquaculture.
Q) Will the Aquaculture Unit have any special powers?
A) The Unit does not have any special powers. The draft Bill, however, will contain a provision that allows the Minister responsible for aquaculture to amend regional coastal plans through regulation. The new Unit will provide advice to the Minister around use of this power, including whether consultation requirements have been met. The Minister will not approve individual resource consents – that will remain the job of the relevant council.
Q)What are the priorities of the Aquaculture Unit?
A) The Aquaculture Unit has three priorities for the next year:
Lead implementation of the new law.
Complete the Aquaculture Strategy and Action Plan, and start delivering results.
Coordination between the groups involved in aquaculture.
Q) How will these improve or change the industry?
A) The proposed new law will reduce regulatory burdens for industry and increase certainty for all stakeholders – local communities, industry, Maori, and environmental interests. We need to make sure the new law is implemented properly and understood by users to ensure the benefits are realised. The Strategy and Action Plan will clearly identify how government will work with stakeholders to develop aquaculture. The strategy will cover projects to develop new space and species, and will also look broadly into research and innovation, market development, and iwi participation. The strategy will look across government portfolios at the actions needed to develop sustainable aquaculture. Coordination and strong relationships will be essential to success. Many government agencies’ work affects aquaculture and we need to ensure we are all singing the same song. We also need to work alongside AQNZ to develop the necessary partnerships with local government, iwi, and with other stakeholders.
Q) Regulatory road blocks have been a major hurdle for the industry over the past decade, how do you plan to combat this?
A) The proposed new law simplifies the regulations governing marine aquaculture while a review of the land-based aquaculture regime will begin in 2011.
Q) Will the Unit have any effect over the daily operations on the water?
A) Yes. In future we hope to see more new farms, a widening diversity of species grown around the coast, and more people employed in the sector.
Q) What do you believe you need to achieve to be successful in this role?
A) There are a number of things I will need to achieve:
Provide a clear direction for the Aquaculture Unit.
Lead and ensure coordination across government agencies.
Work with industry and other stakeholders to ensure the Aquaculture Strategy and Action Plan is achievable, practical and makes commercial sense n Build and maintain the numerous relationships needed to support aquaculture n Ensure Ministers are informed and advised on aquaculture matters.
Q) What will be your main challenge?
A) There are challenges to us all in developing aquaculture in New Zealand, and good things do not always come easily. One main challenge I have set for myself and for the Unit is about building relationships with our stakeholders – from marine farmers to researchers to coastal planners. The success of a project is often based on the relationships you build. The key is maintaining those relationships through the good and the bad. As a Unit, we will need to be able to return another day with another project. Another challenge is managing expectations on what aquaculture can deliver. There are economic opportunities in aquaculture, but as people in the industry know it is not easy money. Overall we need to make sure aquaculture development is sustainable and encourage new entrants to present a good business case.