New Zealand King Salmon is taking a step towards the future in applying for resource consent to farm in the open ocean, north of Marlborough in the Cook Strait.
Once the application is approved, the company intends to commission an initial farm with the potential to grow 4000 tonnes of King salmon – about twice the output of its largest existing farms – as the next step in furthering its 10 year goal of commercialising open ocean salmon farming in New Zealand.
With over four hundred million hectares of ocean space on New Zealand’s doorstep – the fourth largest marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world – farming a tiny proportion of the ocean could provide a significant future source of healthy, sustainable protein.
In addition to positive environmental and social benefits, the open ocean farms proposed within this application will support a significant increase in production by New Zealand King Salmon (NZKS), as well as eventually delivering many green jobs to the Top of the South region.
“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for our company, our region, and the aquaculture industry,” says NZKS CEO Grant Rosewarne. “We’ve named our first open ocean farming project Blue Endeavour to signify the future-focused strategy we’re putting in place to harness the ocean’s potential in a sustainable way. The pens on these farms will be so spacious that we’re calling them sea ranges.”
“Our changing climate and the need for low-carbon, high-nutrition food are truly global issues,” says Mr Rosewarne. “We see aquaculture as a force for good in addressing these challenges. We are investing in what we think will be the future of sustainable food production.”
Research into temperature, wave heights, currents and other key environmental factors has been carried out by the company and independent scientists over the last year, identifying a 1,792 hectare space, located approximately 7km north of Cape Lambert, as suitable.
Cawthron Institute aquaculture scientist Kevin Heasman says, “from a New Zealand perspective, open ocean aquaculture has massive potential. We’ve got a huge marine estate, no close neighbours, and by combining appropriate environmental and site planning with smart farming systems, we can sustainably realise the value of our open ocean resources.”
An application for a 35-year resource consent was lodged with Marlborough District Council at the beginning of July. Pending approval, the company is hoping the first salmon stocks can be introduced at the end of 2020 / start of 2021, with harvest following 12-18 months later.
Developing the first open ocean farm will initially require the commissioning of suitable vessels and pen infrastructure based on international technology, as well as the training of team members, with an anticipated capital investment of around $25-$30 million.
Eventually, the resource consent will allow for the implementation of a second farm nearby, taking the overall production capacity for this region to around 8,000 tonnes of salmon per 18 month cycle.
NZKS Chief Operating Officer Alan Cook, who joined NZKS earlier this year with over 20 years’ international aquaculture experience, says moving to the open ocean will be an ideal environment for the King salmon in the long term.
“Climate change is very real and we have felt its impact in the Marlborough Sounds over the past couple of summers. This decision is crucial to our long term sustainability efforts,” says Mr Cook. “It will undoubtedly be a major challenge to farm in the open ocean because of more extreme conditions than in the Sounds, but we’ve chosen the best site possible.”
Prior to the application, NZKS consulted a wide range of groups, including iwi, fishing companies, Department of Conservation (DOC), Forest and Bird, the Environmental Defence Society and local community groups.
“We anticipate a favourable reaction from our community, as open ocean farming allows the development of positive economic activity, away from communities and recreational activities,” adds Mr Rosewarne. “We hope that successful commercialisation of our open ocean farming vision may decrease our reliance on the in-shore farming model, as part of our ongoing efforts to farm in the most suitable conditions available.”
“The Marlborough Salmon Working Group, made up of stakeholders including the Ministry of Primary Industries, iwi, DOC and environmental groups, encouraged the company to continue research into “offshore farming to ensure ongoing environmental and social improvement”.