Aquaculture park in the works

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An aerial view of the Ocean Beach site near Bluff. Photo: Supplied

GROWING optimism in the aquaculture industry has spurred a group of investors to pump money into rejuvenating the neglected former Ocean Beach Freezing Works site in Bluff.

Bluff Limited, consisting of a group of Southland and Auckland investors, bought the 50ha Ocean Beach site on the outskirts of Bluff about 12 months ago with a view to developing it into a land-based aquaculture park.

“We have a great team on site, investors and a board that are all very excited about being a part of a new chapter of the Ocean Beach story,” Bluff Limited managing director Blair Wolfgram said.

“Many have said it cannot be done, we think it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to it and prove it can.”

The team’s focus for the past 12 months had been on improving the site for the existing tenants, ADM, Sanfords, The New Zealand Abalone Company, Rakiura Helicopters Stewart Island and Winton’s Central Southland Freight, he said.

Paua farm hatchery manager Brae Anderson of Bluff checks the welfare of the brood stock. Photo: Supplied

Its focus now was on upgrading the infrastructure and re-establishing the paua farm under the guidance of Southlander David Corbin and some of the former Southern Marine Farms team.

Southern Marine Farms paua farm, located at Ocean Beach, was shut down in 2009 due to the global paua price collapse during the global financial crisis and a lack of scale, he said.

“The previous Ocean Beach owners were pioneers in the industry in my opinion and well ahead of their time. Unfortunately, due to poor health and time marching on, they decided they were unable to continue,” he said.

“Under David’s leadership and a lot of hard work we are essentially picking up where they left off, albeit on a larger scale.”

Mr Wolfgram was confident there was a strong international market for paua.

“The growing domestic and global demand for sustainably farmed seafood and the pressure on the wild fishery has meant the commercial backdrop has improved.”

They hoped paua production would be up to 200 tonnes by 2024, he said.

Mr Wolfgram said in addition to breeding paua for export and the domestic market, they were also interested in providing stock for reseeding wild paua fisheries.

Southern Marine Farms used to reseed paua in the Chatham Islands, Kaikoura and Dunedin wild fisheries, he said.

“We would love to contribute to that [again] in the future.

“We would encourage and support any reseeding initiatives.”

The Ocean Beach site was ideal for an aquaculture park due to its close proximity to Bluff Wharf, Bluff Harbour, Foveaux Strait and a potential workforce in Bluff and Invercargill, he said.

At present, Bluff Limited employed 12 people, but that number was expected to grow as the development moved forward.

 The juvenile paua V-tank area of the paua farm in Ocean Beach. Photo: Supplied

“We will be gradually adding to the team over time as the farm grows and other opportunities happen.”

Mr Wolfgram said they would encourage and support other aquaculture ventures wishing to use the facility, and were in talks with several parties about farming other species.

Bluff Limited would not solely be about paua production, he said. The development would also include a research and learning centre, restaurant and bar, public tours of the site and artisan retail and workshops.

At present, in addition to establishing the paua farm, landscaping and work to clear rubbish from the site was under way, he said.

“We have achieved a lot in 12 months and the community will start to see the site gradually improve.”

The company was in the process of lodging a Provincial Growth Fund application to help accelerate progress on site.

“Any government assistance would go towards the continued tidying up of the site, paua farm expansion and also preparing areas for other aquaculture tenants.”

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