Innovation Fund

Kohunga Kutai

Creating a sustainable supply of seed mussels using mātauranga Māori

Project Leader Duration Budget
Andrew Jeffs (University of Auckland) & Nicola MacDonald (Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust) January 2021 – December 2022 $250,000


The increasing quantities of plastic entering our marine environment is of widespread and growing concern.

Every year, the green-lipped mussel aquaculture industry uses large quantities of plastic ropes to catch wild mussel spat (seed mussels). The spat is then used to stock mussel farms around Aotearoa New Zealand. However, there are concerns about loss of this plastic spat-catching rope into the sea, and after a number of years of use, much of this rope ends up in landfill because it is not always recyclable.

Using mātauranga Māori and science, we are working with iwi and project partners to develop an effective, biodegradable alternative to plastic spat-catching rope made from native plant fibres.

Mussel spat appear to have a strong natural affinity to attach to native plant fibres such as muka fibre from harakeke (flax), kuta (swamp reed) and tī kōuka (cabbage tree). Mātauranga Māori will guide the identification of these plant fibres, their sources, processing and uses for a series of field experiments to determine the most suitable fibres for commercial spat collection.

Developing a commercial-scale, natural spat-catching product built on mātauranga Māori will reduce plastic pollution from aquaculture activities, lead to the emergence of a new local industry based on native plants, and improve the sustainability of the green-lipped mussel industry.

About our partners

We are partnered with three Māori aquaculture businesses:

  • Aotea Marine Farms Ltd
  • Rough Waters Ltd 
  • Whakatōhea Mussels (Ōpōtiki) Ltd

They are providing access and use of their farm infrastructure, facilities, and staff to undertake field experiments in real-life industry settings: a spat-collection farm, an inshore farm and an offshore farm.

The project has been initiated in direct partnership with Ngāti Manuhiri and Ngāti Rehua and is being co-led by kairaranga (master weavers) of Ngāti Manuhiri and Ngāti Rehua who are matatau (expert) in the use of traditional plant fibre products.

Iwi are ideally placed to lead the development of this unique industry given their underlying mātauranga Māori investment and knowledge of the cultivation of these plants. Iwi also have access to coastal plant resources and landholdings for expanding production and processing, as well as the knowledge from the project to move forward in a manner that suits their aspirations. Research summaries will be made publicly available on this webpage (see timeline on the right).

Research Team

Andrew Jeffs (University of Auckland)
Nicola MacDonald (Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust)
Brad Skelton (University of Auckland)
Katarina Tawiri (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research)


This is an Innovation Fund project, which is co-funded or funded in kind by the following partner(s):

Ngāti Manuhiri & Ngāti Rehua
Te Kohinga Harakeke o Aotearoa—National NZ Flax Collection
Aotea Marine Farms Ltd
Rough Waters Ltd
Whakatōhea Mussels (Ōpōtiki) Ltd

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