The future is here – open ocean aquaculture

Could open oceans aquaculture, at some point in the future, be as prominent in food production as Zealand land-based agriculture?

Some of the answers to these questions were addressed at a Symposium, ‘Unlocking the Potential of Our Oceans’ held by the Cawthron Institute in Nelson 5-7 August 2019.  The programme featured the following headline:

Open ocean aquaculture is New Zealand’s newest and most challenging frontier. We’re lifting the lid on how to meet this challenge through state-of-the-art environmentally sustainable technologies and world-class science.’

The concept has been heralded as a potential game-changer for Norway’s salmon fishing industry. All images courtesy of NSK Ship

Norwegian Dr Hans Bjelland, Director of the Centre for Exposed Aquaculture operations in Norway, spoke about recent developments, including a salmon farm with the hull characteristics of a very large ship. Each of these vessels would be capable of producing 10,000 tonnes of fish at a time.  The structure itself could be turned to face turbulent waves and wind to help ride out the weather. These ideas require further research for New Zealand conditions. The link is at:

The Havfarm concept has been heralded as a potential game changer for Norway’s salmon fishing industry. This image courtesy of NSK Ship Design / Nordlaks.

Other contrivances for both shellfish and finfish that can be lowered or raised to protect against inclement weather illustrate the opportunity to overcome some of the physical challenges presented by the oceans.  Already there are open ocean aquaculture installations in place in New Zealand and producing quality food to add to existing inshore output.  In the Bay of Plenty offshore from Opotiki and in Pegasus Bay north of Christchurch two mussel farms are gradually increasing output and have plans for further expansion.  The farm near Opotiki illustrates the beneficial economic impact that open ocean aquaculture creates for local communities and particularly for local Iwi who have invested in this facility. 

Open ocean mussel farm off Opotiki

To support the venture, planning to develop and to build a new port to service the farm is well advanced.  The new docks will house facilities for comprehensive management of the entire operation from platform operations, spat capture, harvesting, processing, packaging, distribution as well as ancillary services including ship maintenance, riggers, information technology operators and the like.  Clearly there will be significant employment opportunities.

Open ocean aquaculture is a sophisticated operation requiring input from government agencies, a broad range of academic disciplines, practical engineering and diverse knowhow.  It is early days but the potential for open ocean or exposed water aquaculture operations in New Zealand is clear and the rewards could be significant.  The Foundation congratulates the Cawthron Institute for taking the lead in this way.