Our aquaculture facilities

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About us

NIWA is supporting the advancement of New Zealand's growing aquaculture sector through the development of high value products of verifiable quality and sustainability. The team at The Northland Aquaculture Center has expertise in systems design, environmental interactions, new species development, disease identification, prevention and treatment, handling and harvesting, nutrition, reproduction and physiology. Our dedicated team and facilities can conduct research and work with commercial clients to design and manage marine operations that optimise sustainable aquaculture production and meets high environmental and quality certification standards.

Address: PO Box 147, 101 Sime Road, Ruakaka 0151, New Zealand.

Phone: +64 9 432 5500



Our improvements on site

We've always known kingfish taste great. In 2002, we started researching how we could produce large numbers of kingfish so everyone could enjoy them. What we learned was that a land-based system is best at producing superior fish that could be grown sustainably and supplied all year round. Our land-based recirculating aquaculture system works a lot like an aquarium – just bigger. Up to 99 percent of the water can be recirculated and reused after being filtered and treated to eliminate any impurities. As the demand is growing for high-quality and sustainable fish, we are expanding our farm and currently building a recirculating aquaculture system that can produce 600 tonnes of Kingfish a year.


We are currently expanding and building a recirculating aquaculture system that can produce 600 tonnes of Haku Kingfish a year. [NIWA / Lana Young]

Our sustainability goals

We are committed to advancing New Zealand’s aquaculture sector through sustainable production. With high environmental and quality certification standards, the control afforded by recirculating aquaculture systems protects stock and insures the producer against climate variability and change.

Learn more about our sustainability goals

Animal welfare

Through constant monitoring and management, recirculating systems provide a stable environment that is optimal for the fish: never too hot or too cold, with uninterrupted access to oxygen and food, no accumulation of waste, and protection from extreme weather events, toxic or noxious algae blooms, disease, parasites and predators. To manage their distribution throughout the farm, fish can also be moved between tanks with ease, up to the point of harvest. 

Minimal footprint

The farm has a very small carbon footprint of approximately 6,500m² per 1,000 tonnes of production per year. This is due to the use of deep, spacious tanks for fish rearing and high efficiency systems for refreshing the water, as well as intercepting and treating farm discharge. Production can be placed on freehold properties with appropriate access to water, energy and transport networks and where workforces are seeking primary sector employment.

Sustainable feed

We are in a transformative era when it comes to making quality fish feed. There has been major progress in both feed conversion efficiency (the rate  at which feed is converted into fish flesh), and also the sources of raw ingredients used to make feed. Marine ingredients (fish meal and fish oil) are rapidly being replaced with alternative proteins and fats without impairing the health, taste, texture, or wholesomeness of the fish being farmed.  Also, the consistent temperatures of recirculating aquaculture systems make for superior feed use efficiency because the fish do not waste energy accommodating extremes of temperature, suboptimal oxygen or other sources of distress. The feed wastage can also be almost eliminated when the fish are raised in tanks. 

Low water use

In recirculating aquaculture systems, up to 99.5% of the water entering the fish tanks has been recycled and reconditioned. With water exchange reduced to less than 4% of a ‘flow-through’ system, it is easy to treat both the incoming water (to exclude pathogens, parasites or noxious materials) and the discharge, ensuring there are no significant adverse effects on the supporting environment.

Energy efficient

Land-based facilities enjoy access to electrical grids. In New Zealand, this means the farm can operate on renewable electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal sources. Throughout our design and equipment selection, energy efficiency and minimising greenhouse gas emissions from things such as pumps, biofilters, gas exchange systems, lighting and waste treatment has been a high priority.  


  • Area: 8.2 Hectares, of which about half is developed, the other half available. Surrounded by flat land with future potential.
  • Power Supply: 240V single phase and 400 three phase. 
  • Abundant supply of high-quality seawater
  • Water Tanks & Volumes: Currently holding 200 research tanks on site, ranging between 200-70,000L. Including many flow-though tanks, a 30,000L and 180,000L recirculating aquaculture system (RAS). 
  • Water Filtration & Treatment: The site has consent to take 4 of seawater per second through 2.4m diameter pipes. Seawater filtered down to 5 micron, then UV treated. Finer filtration is available as well as ozonated supply if required.
  • Solids Removal: RAS process filtration collects waste solids and these are treated by anaerobic digestion before returning clear water back into the ocean. 
  • Oxygenation: Oxygen levels are carefully monitored and controlled by electronic systems. Oxygen is supplied from a large bulk liquid tank onsite. Backup oxygen is available.
  • pH control: pH is monitored in RAS systems and controlled by degassing and dosing. 
  • Temperature Control: Bream Bay’s seawater naturally fluctuates between 13°C in winter and 23°C in summer. Efficient temperature control is achieved by heat pump technology. This allows us to conduct aquaculture trials up to 10°C above or below ambient seawater temperature.
  • Biosecurity: Biosecurity is extremely important to us. A multiprong approach is taken on incoming water disinfection, sanitisation stations at every entry/exit point and close water quality monitoring. Much of this monitoring is carried out on site in our purpose-built laboratories.
  • Service conduit: A 550m long service conduit allows for any new service to be supplied to the all parts of the site with ease. This includes seawater, electricity, freshwater, data, waste removal, etc.
  • Meeting rooms and office space available on site.

The new administration building at the Northland Aquaculture Centre offers a number of meeting rooms and office spaces. 

Kingfish being weighed by staff at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. [Photo: Stuart Mackay]

Recirculation aquaculture systems

About RAS

Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are a land-based production technology for aquatic organisms and high-value finfish. They utilise simple water treatment technologies (mechanical and biological filtrations) to minimise water use and maintain a tightly controlled environment. These can range from very open systems that use only basic treatment technologies to reuse some of their water resource, to fully closed systems which reuse 100% of the water and only add new water to account for splashing and evaporation. RAS vary in their design and functionality depending on the species being produced, the local conditions and the cost/access to a local water resource.

Advantages of using RAS

  • Reduced water requirements 
  • Water is treated and recirculated, significantly reducing water requirements. 
  • Production Control
  • Water can be heated/cooled, high oxygen can be maintained, pH adjusted, pathogens treated, and waste products removed to maximise health, growth rates, and the welfare of the stock. 
  • Increase in long-term production
  • Stock are unaffected by seasonality, periodic disease events and adverse weather, allowing continuous and reliable production.  
  • Reduced environmental footprint
  • Waste streams are treated and recycled to ensure they have the least impact on the environment as possible. Being land-based, there is also no risk of fish escaping and interbreeding with wild populations. 
  • Flexible design
  • The system can easily be customised for different species, locations and consumer preferences. 

What we have on site

The Northland Aquaculture Centre has two RAS designed for experimental programs that test the effects of RAS conditions on fish performance. The treatment components of the RAS are also designed to be flexible so that new technologies, and different combinations of technologies can be tested (biofilters, drum filters, degassers, foam fractionators etc.). Both RAS are designed to allow for the simultaneous measurement of fish performance, whole-system performance, individual component performance and water quality parameters while maintaining precise temperature control water quality parameters. The key focus of this research is to develop the technology and techniques to produce a high quality seafood product, while minimising environmental impact, increasing profitability, and reducing investment risk.

RAS unit 1

6 x 5m3 tanks with direct oxygen injection, automated feeders and feed recovery for each tank. The system is capable of being setup in a multitude of different configurations. Filtration components can be plugged in at any stage, making the comparison of different known technologies to be easily undertaken alongside the new innovations being developed at the NMRC. Energy inputs and waste outputs can be quantified at different locations allowing differences in efficiencies and performance to be measured in real time. Temperature, photoperiod, pH, O2 saturation, water flow rate, feed rates, meal times and stocking density are a few of the various parameters that can be manipulated and tested side by side. 

  • 6 × 5000 Litre tanks capable of rearing a variety of finfish species, at different sizes and at high stocking densities. 
  • Tanks can be stocked up to 100kg/m³ = 500kg/tank= 3000kg for the unit
  • Connecting RAS systems capable of being split into 2 identical units
  • Ability to run both freshwater and seawater.
  • Capability to run tanks at various turnover rates up to 20min refresh
  • Capability to run at various system refresh rates
  • Flexibility to run various trials, using different water treatment methods and system/tank/water flow configurations

RAS unit 2

3 × side by side systems consisting of 2 × 25m³ tanks per system. Many of the same capabilities are built into the second unit but with 3 larger scale replicate systems. Many of the lessons learn in the smaller RAS have been built into this unit as a standard. The lager tanks give a more commercial like environment, allowing trials to be more focused on the anticipated challenges that will come with full commercial production. The 3 replicate systems ensures that multiple variations in systems setup and husbandry techniques can be explored and measured. Energy efficiency, waste capture, and production cost reduction can be explored on a larger and therefore more realistic scale. Economic gains from technological innovation at the NMRC can be demonstrated, quantified and tested against other more traditional rearing practices. Improvements in waste capture and environmental impact can also be tested and shown in real life.

  • 6 × 2500L tanks capable of rearing a variety of finfish species, at different sizes and at high stocking densities. 
  • 3 × connecting RAS systems capable of supplying 2 tanks per system.
  • Tanks can be stocked up to 100kg/m³ = 2500kg/tank = 15000kg for the unit
  • Ability to run both freshwater and seawater.
  • Capability to run tanks at various turnover rates up to a 15min refresh
  • Capability to run at various system refresh rates
  • Flexibility to run various trials, using different water treatment methods and system/tank/water flow configurations


Feed trials

The Northland Aquaculture Centre has several replicated systems that can be used to run comparative feed trials. These systems can be all be run of freshwater or saltwater, flow-through or with degrees of water re-use, and with precise temperature and environmental control. Within trial areas, groups of tanks can be placed different water supplies to have different temperatures or other environmental conditions within the same trial. 
  • Larval and nursery feed trial areas: 8 x 5 m³ tanks with temperature, oxygen, light, microbial and feeding control, and 12 x 1.5 m³ tanks with temperature, oxygen, light, microbial and feeding control.
  • Juvenile and growout feed trial areas: 42 x 1.5m³ tanks with temperature, gas controls (oxygen, CO2, nitrogen), light and feeding control and feed recovery. 
  • Broodstock feed trial areas: 4 x 12 m³ tanks temperature, oxygen, light, microbial and feeding control, and 8 x 20 m³ tanks temperature, oxygen and feeding control. 


General lab

General purpose semi-wet laboratory. It contains the -80°C freezer and water quality measurement equipment (spectrophotometer, pH meter, CO2 meter). We also conduct proximate composition analysis using our NIR (near infra-red) instrument to estimate the relative amounts of water, protein, lipid and ash in biological samples (e.g., feed, muscle, viscera, faeces).

Hatchery lab

This multi-purpose dry laboratory is connected to one of our egg incubation rooms, with several instruments available for use. The lab is equipped with two Leica stereomicroscopes, a compound microscope, incubator, -80°C freezer, -20°C freezer, a refrigerator, laminar flow hood and fume hood. A 96-well plate spectrophotometer is also available for colorimetric (e.g., ELISA) assays.

Algae lab

This dry laboratory is attached to our algae facility to support cultures. It houses the reverse osmosis water filtration systems and a large autoclave oven.

Pathology lab

These are comprised of the wet and dry labs. The wet lab is where we conduct necropsies or tissue sampling from deceased fish. The dry lab is where pathology samples are processed further, housing a compound microscope and dissecting equipment. 


Workshops and machine shops

A dedicated team is responsible for the installation and maintenance of the infrastructure at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. The facility has fully-equipped workshops and machine shops for the construction, maintenance and custom fabrication of scientific equipment, field equipment and aquaculture production systems. The team has significant combined experience in the design, construction and operation of many types of aquaculture systems. Much of the work carried out by the team is bespoke, and often new methods and technologies need to be developed to solve particular problems, as no one else has done it before.




Learn more about our kingfish by visiting www.haku.nz


Chief Scientist - Aquaculture & Biotechnology
RAS Operations Manager
Manager - NAC Operations
NIWA's new office building at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. [NIWA]
The Northland Aquaculture Centre. [Photo: Stuart Mackay]
Yellowtail Kingfish in recirculating aquaculture tanks at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. [Photo: Pascale Otis]
Assessment of a juvenile Chinook salmon at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. [Photo: Alvin Setiawan]
Chinook salmon are the only salmon species farmed in New Zealand. Staff at the Northland Aquaculture Centre regularly assess the health of the fish on site. [Photo: Alvin Setiawan]
Kingfish being harvested at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. [Photo: Stuart Mackay]
Recirculating aquaculture water supply pipes at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. [Photo: Alvin Setiawan]
Fish pellets feed used in trials at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. [Photo: Alvin Setiawan]
Algae supply tank in the kingfish nursery at the Northland Aquaculture Centre. [Photo: Stuart Mackay]
Scientists at the Northland Aquaculture Centre can do precise analysis on various types of samples. [Photo: Alvin Setiawan]
A number of laboratory spaces are available on site. [Photo: Alvin Setiawan]