R&D generates returns

NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan looks at how investment in research unlocks commercial opportunities.

The release earlier this year of tens of thousands of specially bred kingfish into eight 350,000 litre tanks at Ruakākā in Northland is a major milestone for New Zealand aquaculture. It is also an excellent example of the power of applied science.

These kingfish were selectively bred, generation after generation, from wild-caught broodstock by NIWA fisheries experts at our Northland Aquaculture Centre. The fish reach harvest size of 3kg in our Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) – a unique facility designed to prove the viability of commercial-scale, on-land finfish production, the result of years of research and development at the centre.

The Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) in action [Stuart Mackay, NIWA]

Significantly, this is also the first new, high-value finfish species to be added to New Zealand’s commercial aquaculture offering since farming salmon in sea cages took off in the 1980s.

The construction of the RAS facility was carried out in collaboration with Northland Regional Council, who recognise the potential of a new aquaculture industry based in the North.

NIWA is committed to using our science expertise to support the sustainable management and development of New Zealand’s natural resources.

"Helping to grow a resilient seafood sector is a key focus for applying our research." ~ John Morgan

The RAS is the culmination of a remarkable NIWA story. It started two decades ago with the search for new high-value species suitable for aquaculture, and it has evolved into the development of a sustainable, land-based fish farming system.

This long-term research investment is on track to deliver 600 tonnes of premium grade kingfish a year, with the potential to scale up production to 3,000 tonnes per annum. The system is designed to be easily adapted for other species and other locations around New Zealand, and we have already developed the expertise and the broodstock needed to trial taking hāpuku to commercial production.

New Zealand aquaculture aims to turn the current $500 million industry into a $3 billion industry by 2035. That is an ambitious target. What is clear, is that science will continue to play a vital role in accelerating the growth of aquaculture in New Zealand – unlocking employment and investment opportunities along the way.

This story forms part of Water and Atmosphere - November 2023, read more stories from this series