This week there was a small item on page 3 of our local newspaper announcing that the four major players in New Zealand’s mussel industry have joined forces to create a new company, Spatco. The four companies involved are Wakatu Incorporation, Sealord (both Nelson-based), Sanford and Pacifica Seafoods. Spatco aims to take baby mussels grown in the laboratory (“spat”) and grow them up to the size where they can survive on their own in the marine environment. The objectives are two-fold: to ensure a consistent, reliable supply of mussel juveniles and to take advantage of the ambitious selective breeding programme which has been going on at Cawthron Institute for the past five or six years.
Wakatu have recently been talking with government about support for their joint initiative with Cawthron and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT): the Horoirangi Centre of Seafood and Aquaculture. This is an ambitious $10.5 million plan to integrate research and education with the commercial application of the research scientist’s efforts. The creation of Spatco, demonstrating a commitment from the bulk of the NZ mussel industry, will not have done their application any harm.
(If you don’t know where the industry gets its baby mussels from right now, read this post!)
A few weeks back, Cawthron announced that work had started on new research and educational facilities, at a cost of $2.4 million. Today the Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee announced that the government would stump up with $1.7 million to further develop these facilities. NMIT plan to begin a Diploma in Aquaculture course from next year, based at the Glen.
This is all great news for aquaculture, signalling a new commitment from government to help the sector achieve a much greater contribution to the nation’s economy. There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge: people are anxiously awaiting results from last year’s reform of the regulatory environment for aquaculture. Such a reform was well overdue: the whole sector has almost been marking time since the disastrous Aquaculture Law Reform exercise of the early 2000’s.
In my view it is a no-brainer. Aquaculture has a huge potential for New Zealand, providing export earnings as well as jobs in areas with relatively few other employment opportunities. It’s just a matter of choosing the right products and the right locations.
Shellfish farming in particular can play an important role in environmental protection. In New Zealand, the supply chain for shellfish goes directly from the marine farm to the market. We don’t use depuration (where the shellfish are transferred to holding tanks and kept in clean, filtered water for several weeks to flush out unwanted bacteria and toxins), relying instead on our pristine water conditions. World-leading surveillance systems have been set up to convince regulators in the countries we export to that our shellfish really are safe. So marine farmers are the first to sound the alarm, for example, if some bach owner’s septic tank is not working properly.
Finally, the environmental impact of new aquaculture projects is easy to monitor and if any unwanted effects are observed they are very reversible: stop the activity and within a year or two things are back to the way they were.
So it’s exciting times for Cawthron. It’s hard to believe these developments have come from such modest beginnings.
PS 22 May 2010 – good piece on the breeding programme in the Nelson Mail