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A huge step forward for the enhancement and protection of the salmon fishery on the lower Waitaki River is how Central South Island Fish and Game has described a joint venture between it and Meridian Energy.
The project is part of an agreement between the two which dates back to 1990.
A new ‘‘stakeholder agreement'' has been negotiated as part of a seven-year review, changing the direction in the way the salmon fishery in the Waitaki River will be managed.
The agreement, originally negotiated with ECNZ for renewal of resource consents for the Waitaki River electricity generation assets, now owned by Meridian, will have the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) prepare a report on options for enhancing the population of Waitaki River sea-run salmon.
Meridian will contribute up to $60,000 to the comprehensive report which will identify options and their costs for the future.
Negotiations will then be held with Meridian to contribute to the projects identified in the report.
The original agreement provided for Meridian to pay for releases of up to 100,000 salmon smolt a year into the river, but that was discontinued when suitable supplies were not available.
Fish and game officer Mark Webb said the project offered more benefit to the salmon fishery than an approach which relied solely on the release of hatchery-reared stock. The project did not exclude future releases, but provided for its consideration alongside a wider range of options.
‘‘I believe it is a huge step forward for enhancement and protection for decades,'' he said.
The investigation by Niwa would consider.
- Priorities for the protection and enhancement and potential production from existing salmon spawning habitat in tributaries;
- Sites, priorities and potential production from enhancement of mainstem and sidebraid spawning in the Waitaki
- Options for supplementing the fishery, including potential hatchery sites. hatchery production release sites and strategies
- Options for enhancing juvenile salmon habitat to promote stream rearing;
- Methods for monitoring enhancement options.
The report should be finished within a year and then Meridian and the council would discuss options, priorities and funding.
The council considered the changes to the stakeholder agreement at its meeting on Thursday night.
It accepted the proposals, but wanted the wording of the agreement checked by its legal advisers.
Mr Webb expected the agreement could be approved by the council later this month.
Field work would then start on gathering data for the report using Niwa and council staff.