The Southland Regional Development Strategy Group (SoRDS) has commissioned preliminary research into potential aquaculture sites at Paterson Inlet, Port Adventure and Port Pegasus, Stewart Island, and further research may follow into two sites in southern Fiordland.
SoRDS new industries team leader Mark O’Connor said realising the potential of sustainable aquaculture had been identified as one of the leading opportunities for greater economic diversity for Southland.
“Our natural attributes of cool, clean, deep and sheltered waters give us a distinct advantage.”
Southland already has some aquaculture. The major player is Sanford Ltd, which has farmed Chinook (King) salmon at Stewart Island for more than 30 years, and is now experimenting with farming oysters.
On Monday, Sanford Southland manager Tommy Foggo was guest speaker at an industry seminar attended by about 35 people including engineers, exporters, seafood processors, accountants, and feed stock merchants.
He said Sanford produced about 3200 metric tonnes (mt) of salmon annually and 2600mt of mussels, directly employing 193 full-time equivalent workers. Sales of $66 million were generated annually, of which about $60 million was returned to the local economy through wages, salaries, operating expenses and purchases.
Aquaculture was “a sleeping giant”, Mr Foggo said.
“To expand salmon farming by another 25,000mt per annum would only require 17ha of actual farm space, which is minimal.”
Blue cod could also potentially be farmed in Southland, he said.
In June, a group of Southlanders including Southland District Mayor Gary Tong, Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie and Venture Southland (VS) enterprise and strategic projects group manager Steve Canny attended the 2016 Aquavision Conference in Stavanger, Norway.
Mr Canny said the potential for New Zealand – and Southland – was not only in farming fish and seafood but in “value-added products” such as sushi and prepackaged salmon slices.
Another opportunity for Southland was to manufacture aquaculture feed from grain-based proteins such as wheats or oats, although he said that would not be economically viable until New Zealand’s aquaculture industry produced at least 50,000-60,000mt annually.
Aquaculture was well regarded internationally, Mr Canny said.
“Some of the leading environmental organisations in the world are advocating for it as the future of healthy eating food protein because it’s sustainable, manageable, has health and well-being benefits as a food, and because it has the lowest emissions of any livestock growing system.”
VS had completed an aquaculture strategy in 2012, which had been followed up by more detailed work by Environment Southland, he said, and the research now being undertaken was “the natural next step”.
“I think it is very positive. The work of SoRDS has been able to bring this to the fore, and that’s good.”
Mr O’Connor said he expected the research to be completed later this year. After that the SoRDS governance group would decide on further resourcing for the project, including extensive community consultation.
Community buy-in for the expansion of aquaculture was critical, he said.