Aquaculture nutrition

Global demand for high-value food products from the sea is growing at a rapid and sustained rate. This increasing demand will be met, almost entirely, through aquaculture.

New Zealand is privileged to have the natural, financial, and human resources to capitalise on the opportunity through sustainable production of premium aquaculture products for a discerning global marketplace.

NIWA's National Centre for Aquaculture is responding to the opportunity and helping to ensure New Zealand's aquaculture industry meets its $1 billion target by 2025. We bring together world-class research facilities—including the Northland Marine Research Centre—and the country's largest team of aquaculture specialists to support the aquaculture industry with unique science that underpins current and developing operations and innovation.

One of our core areas of independent research and consultancy services is aquaculture nutrition. The economics of fed aquaculture are dominated by the cost of feed and its biological and environmental performance in the production system. For many new and emerging aquaculture species, optimal nutritional requirements are unknown. Even for established species, access to alternative raw materials offers opportunities to improve product quality, reduce environmental footprints and lower feed costs.

These are key areas of focus for the National Centre for Aquaculture.


Our nutrition services (PDF 215 KB).

Our capability – systems

Our nutrition capability is based on the wide range of high-quality facilities located at our Bream Bay Aquaculture Park in Northland. The facility is distinguished by the abundance supply of high quality seawater. We recognise both the growing importance of reuse or recirculating aquaculture systems in the aquaculture production and the potential confounding effects of RAS on research intended to inform sea based farming. Our capacity to conduct photothermally controlled experiments under ‘flow-through’ conditions allows us to conduct experiments with the broadest possible utility for commercial end-users.

System 1: Dedicated larval trials unit with full Phototherm control comprising sixteen, 900 litre, round tanks with black internal side walls and contrasting flat, white bases.

System 2: Production feed trials unit containing forty-two, 1500 litre, round tanks divided across three rooms (18, 12 and 12 tanks respectively), each under full photothermal control.

System 3: Intermediate scale dual purpose nutrition unit comprising 8 * 5000 litre circular tanks with full photothermal control able to be configured for larval or on-growing production trials.

System 4: Second intermediate scale dual purpose nutrition unit comprising 8 * 5000 litre circular tanks with full photothermal control with the capacity to operate across a range of modes, from  flow-through to a full recirculating aquaculture system. The system is also configured to allow elements of the RAS to be exchanged to allow the testing of different system elements or for the development of new systems and innovation.

System 5: Metabolic chamber that combines capabilities to measure respiration and excretion of animals under controlled environmental conditions (i.e. temperature, salinity, oxygen, carbon dioxide, pH, diet, feed rates, dissolved substances, enforced exercise) as well as the quantity and quality of discharge using particle sizing, capture and analysis.

Our capability – analytical

Gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS): dedicated apparatus to provide detailed fatty acid composition of materials, combining the features of gas–liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.

Near infrared: This analytical capability enables us to analyse large numbers of samples to determine their proximate composition (protein, lipid, moisture), for quick turnaround of basic nutritional information.

Quantitative determination of feed consumption: Using our portable x-ray camera and recognition software we are able to accurately determine the actual amount of feed consumed, with little disturbance of the fish. This method, using sophisticated counting software, visualises and quantifies x-ray opaque ballotini balls (0.5mm and 1mm) contained within test feeds at known inclusion rates.

Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS): Using this technique we can analyse feeds and faecal samples to estimate apparent digestibility using Ytterbium as the marker of choice.


Regional Manager - Hamilton
X-ray image of ballotini beads in eaten feed. [NIWA]
X-ray imaging equipment set-up. [NIWA]
Aquaculture tanks. [NIWA]