Developing tools for sustainable aquaculture

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New Zealand’s green credentials are a key selling point for aquaculture products in an increasingly discerning world market. With the aquaculture industry poised to expand, we need robust tools to manage potential environmental impacts, including those of new finfish species. NIWA’s sustainable aquaculture programme addresses this need.

The government is drafting new regulations to fast-track the backlog of marine farm applications. It has also endorsed changes to the Waikato and Tasman Coastal plans to allow finfish farming. It is critical that we understand what impacts the ensuing marine farm expansion will have on the coastal environment, and how these can best be managed.

With the largest team of coastal scientists in the country, NIWA is well placed to answer these questions. This multidisciplinary team has developed a suite of evidence-based tools to help councils assess and manage the environmental effects of marine farm expansion. 

These tools include:

  • ecophysiological models to predict shellfish growth and ecosystem responses under a range of farming scenarios
  • hydrodynamic models to differentiate phytoplankton changes arising from mussel farms, from those that are due to natural environmental variation.

The tools have been incorporated into a Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) framework and successfully tested on large mussel farms in the Firth of Thames. Environment Waikato is now using the framework to guide the extensive mussel farm expansion in the Firth.  The implementation of the LAC management framework has delivered industry confidence and demonstrable ecosystem integrity.

We’re now adapting the tools for sustainable development of finfish and multispecies aquaculture, key areas for future growth. Newly appointed project leader Dr Phil Heath brings expertise in fish feeding responses and physiology, along with experience in Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture (IMTA).

IMTA (also known as ‘polyculture’ and ‘integrated co-culture’) is one of several new tools, along with environmentally-friendly fish feeds, we’re developing to minimise the ecological footprint of marine farms. The programme is funded until 2015 by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Contact: Dr Phil Heath

Sustainable Aquaculture Programme

Limits of Acceptable Change framework for aquaculture

Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture – NIWA’s past research

Mussel farm in Marlborough's Nikau Bay. [NIWA]