Aquaculture broodstock development

With the growing global demand for protein and increasing demand for high-value food products from the sea, there is great economic opportunity to provide environmentally responsible and sustainable aquaculture.

Aquaculture broodstock development and breeding strategy

Global growth in demand for high-value food products from the sea will exceed growth in supply for the foreseeable future resulting in a significant supply gap. It is forecast that 62% of fish for human consumption will be farmed by 2030. New Zealand has an exceptional brand position, the resources and human capital from which we can extract value in a socially acceptable, sustainable and profitable manner.

Through the National Centre for Aquaculture, NIWA has combined world class facilities and a crack team of aquaculture specialists to ensure New Zealand's aquaculture industry realises the maximum benefit this global market growth offers.

Broodstock development is a core requirement where the production system does not rely on wild-source juveniles. Broodstock development combines environmental science, animal behaviour, nutrition, health management and genetics to ensure consistent, cost-effective supplies of healthy, high performing juveniles for on-growing.

NIWA's core areas of research and consultancy services are the broodstock development of aquaculture species and breeding strategy.

Selective breeding programmes cannot be viewed or pursued in isolation. Desired trait selection is defined by the market and by the production system. At the onset, it is valuable to determine the genetic variability within a population and the scope of potential performance in key traits such as growth rates, timing of maturation, feed use efficiency or tolerance to anticipated environmental extremes.

NIWA has a robust broodstock development platform. While we have demonstrated our capability on a wide variety of species in the past, we recognise the significant costs associated with successful broodstock development and acknowledge the importance of identifying a realistic route to commercialisation prior to investment.

Our successes

Through our research on reproductive biology and behaviour, we can reliably produce multiple generations of captive-bred hāpuku and kingfish, the latter at a commercial scale. We combine fecundity and fertility analysis, progeny performance testing and selective breeding to establish high-performance hāpuku and kingfish broodstock. In conjunction with commercial partners, we apply these techniques and selective breeding and genetic technologies (parentage analyses and genomics) to enhance the performance of established species such as Chinook salmon, and Pāua (abalone).

Kingfish (Seriola lalandi)

Our research has enabled us to reliably manipulate kingfish to spawn on-demand providing a year-round supply of juveniles for commercial on-growing or research. This controlled breeding has permitted us to conduct  individual family crosses. We have used DNA markers to accurately determine parentage and track family performance and  select elite animals for future breeding. Analysis of performance data illustrates the potential for genetic gains from selective breeding in this species. We have demonstrated that conservative elite family selection for rapid growth can result in an 20 % improvement in growth rate per generation.

Hāpuku (groper, Polyprion oxygeneios)

Intensive research on broodstock husbandry and hatchery technology for hāpuku has allowed us to close the life-cycle of this species for aquaculture. We now have reliable yearly production of second generation fish; a world’s first for this family of fishes. We hold over forty hāpuku families for performance evaluation and broodstock selection.

Performance assessments include fish health, survival rates, appearance, feed use efficiency and growth. Analysis of that information tells similar story to our kingfish; a conservative elite family selection for rapid growth (10%) would result in generation over generation growth rate gains of 25%.

Paua (abalone, Haliotis iris)

NIWA scientists developed techniques for hatching abalone in the 1980s, and have established multiple family lines to determine the heritability of key performance traits. For example, from our analysis of growth traits we estimate performance can be improved by as much as 10–20% per generation. We work closely with Moana New Zealand Blue Abalone in managing the farmed broodstock and to continually improve their performance.

Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

X-radiography feed intake and feed efficiency studies have demonstrated that feed efficiency is heritable, independent of growth rate, and can be improved through selective breeding. 

Our services

Our team can help you with all aspects of broodstock development and management, from acquisition, set-up and advice on nutrition and husbandry of new brood, right the way through to detailed troubleshooting and managing the genetic make-up of your existing broodstock to optimise performance to meet your business needs.

Our process

By working closely with you we can develop a broodstock selection and development programme, tailor-made for your operation and designed at an appropriate level to meet your specific business needs. This is done through a staged process:

Stage 1 – Consultation

We begin by carrying out a comprehensive review of your operation to identify the resources you have available and your current constraints.

Stage 2 – Definition

After consultation we will define your specific needs and develop a range of options to meet these, based on your current requirements and future goals.

Stage 3 – Implementation & Support 

We will help you to manage the roll-out of your selected option and can provide you with on-going support and advice as defined in Stage 2.

Our expertise

  • Reproductive biology, broodstock husbandry, nutrition and spawning advice
  • Development of broodstock management and selection plans appropriate for the resources available and individual goals of the farmer
  • Breeding programme design and implementation protocols
  • Development of methods for the accurate analysis of commercially valuable traits
  • Genetic evaluation of performance traits and selection index development
  • Data management and analysis
  • Application of techniques such as hormone induction to enhance broodstock management and selection. 


Paua family individuals with spring tags. Credit: NIWA
Hapuku F1 feed intake ballotini beads X-ray. Credit: NIWA
Hapuku egg development. Credit: NIWA