Aquaculture news

21 November 2019

Good science key to successful open ocean aquaculture

Collaboration, science and innovation combined with NZ aquaculture’s pioneering spirit will lead the way for open ocean aquaculture development around New Zealand, Cawthron Institute’s Chief Executive Professor Charles Eason says, after the institute hosted the first-ever Open Oceans Aquaculture Symposium in 2019.

Cawthron Institute, New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation, held a three-day Symposium earlier this year on unlocking the potential of New Zealand’s open ocean aquaculture.

The Symposium discussed opportunities for shellfish, seaweed, and finfish.

New Zealand’s aquaculture industry is growing in response to globally increasing demand but is constrained by limited sheltered inshore farm space. The new frontier is open ocean aquaculture, where there are large tracts of consented space available but farming is challenging in exposed and dynamic waters.

Professor Eason says the Symposium achieved its goal of bringing people together to discuss the way forward for open ocean aquaculture, based on world-class science and strong collaboration.

“The Symposium started really important conversations about the future of New Zealand’s open ocean aquaculture potential and highlighted the need to better articulate what that future might look like, as well as the importance of collaboration and cross-sector engagement to increase innovation.”

Open ocean aquaculture affords New Zealand the best opportunity to grow its blue economy, Eason says.

“By combining appropriate environmental planning with smart farming systems, we can sustainably realise the value of our vast open ocean resources, as well as create jobs and futures for many people.”

It’s important all parties have a say in making decisions that are backed by excellent robust science, says Cawthron Institute Coastal and Freshwater Group Manager Dr Chris Cornelisen.

“Ocean science is as cool as rocket science,” he says. “Not every New Zealander can be an astronaut, but every New Zealander can be connected to the ocean. That’s why aquaculture is so important as an industry and a field of scientific study.”

Cawthron Aquaculture Group Manager Dr Serean Adams says there are significant opportunities in open ocean aquaculture.


Opening remarks: Unlocking the potential of our ocean, Professor Charles Eason and Dr Serean Adams

There will be a 23 per cent increase in demand for food by 2030, she says, and aquaculture is a good way to provide that protein. “New Zealand provides 0.1 per cent of world aquaculture and has plenty of room to grow,” says Adams.

“Seven per cent of our exclusive economic zone has aquaculture potential. If we developed just one per cent of that, it could result in more than 10 times current production compared to today’s industry.”

The Symposium heard about progress being made by industry in offshore shellfish farming underway in the Bay of Plenty and off the Canterbury coast, along with developments in technology that will enable finfish to be farmed in exposed conditions, and potential in seaweed farming.

Cawthron Institute is helping to advance open ocean aquaculture technology through the development of new tools and methods to cost-effectively farm shellfish and finfish including the use of modelling and wave tank simulations.

Among the national and international speakers were Cawthron’s aquaculture specialist Kevin Heasman, who has presented internationally on open ocean aquaculture and is leading development of the methods to farm in the open ocean, and Cawthron marine scientists Chris Cornelisen, Paul Barter, and Malcolm Smeaton who presented on the essential technologies needed for open ocean aquaculture.

Lifting the lid on open ocean aquaculture technological advances in New Zealand, Kevin Heasman, Cawthron Institute

Essential technologies for enabling open ocean aquaculture, Dr Chris Cornelisen, Paul Barter and Malcolm Smeaton, Cawthron Institute 

Speakers from Norway’s marine research institute SINTEF Ocean, Hans Bjelland and Arne Fredheim, say technology needs to not only build ships and pens to withstand large waves and extreme conditions, but also meet the needs of the animals in them and allow workers to operate them properly to care for the animals as well.

An international perspective on open ocean aquaculture, Dr Hans Bjelland, SINTEF Ocean & Centre of Exposed Aquaculture Operations, Norway

The welfare of the fish and other animals farmed in open ocean farms and the workers operating those farms must be the focus of industry development, they say.

Cawthron Social Scientist Jim Sinner says it is important to bring the community along with the science and industry to ensure there is a “social licence to operate”. This term describes the ongoing acceptance of a company or industry's business practices by iwi, stakeholders, and the general public.

Who grants a social licence for aquaculture?, Jim Sinner, Cawthron Institute

His Sustainable Seas research project has shown that iwi and communities wanted to be engaged before development projects take place and not after, he says. The quality of relationships is the single most important determinant of social licence, and each company needs to earn its own social licence and not rely on the reputation of the wider industry. “The day you think you've got it sorted and don't need to worry about it is probably the day you start losing it,” says Sinner.

The Open Oceans Aquaculture Symposium attracted experts from Norway, Germany, USA, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, all of whom have collaborated with Cawthron scientists to support the Institute’s established open ocean aquaculture research program. In addition, delegates also heard from local industry and iwi representatives, as well as government and economic points of view.

It is an exciting time to see the skills that have been gained over just three decades in inshore aquaculture. Now, after more than a decade of open ocean aquaculture research and development, Cawthron is helping to take aquaculture to a level where it is ready for the next step, developing offshore farms for mussels, seaweed, and finfish, and looks forward to successful working partnerships and collaborations that will realise this potential.

View all the symposium presentations here.