Back in the 1960s the sheltered waters of the Marlborough Sounds were identified as an ideal location for farming green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus).
This species is endemic to New Zealand and was part of the traditional kaimoana for Māori. Today it is farmed for its food value and as a health supplement to relieve inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.
The mussels grow on lines below the surface attached to backbone ropes that are kept afloat by large oval buoys. They feed on plankton and other microscopic sea creatures filtered out of the water as it flows past the dangling lines.
Mussel farming is mainly in Pelorus Sound/Te Hoiere, Croisilles Harbour, Admiralty Bay, East Bay (Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui) and Port Underwood.
Ownership ranges from individuals to iwi corporations and large seafood companies, and the multi-million dollar industry provides jobs, export earnings and a distinctive gourmet product for the region.
Under the Resource Management Act it is Council's job to regulate mussel farming. Council decisions on granting new space or renewing existing consents are a balancing act between the economic benefits of mussel farming, sustainable management of the Sounds and community concerns such as the loss of recreational water space, effects on other marine life and the visual impact on the landscape.
Research commissioned by Council shows that recovery of the seabed underneath marine farms can return to more or less a natural state within 10 years.