Posted on 27 September 2019

Symposium shows good science key to successful open ocean aquaculture

Collaboration, science and innovation combined with New Zealand aquaculture’s pioneering spirit will lead the way for open ocean aquaculture development around New Zealand, the Cawthron Institute says, after hosting the first-ever Open Oceans Aquaculture Symposium.

Cawthron Institute, New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation, held a three-day Symposium from 5-7 August with a focus on unlocking the potential of New Zealand’s open ocean aquaculture.

The Symposium discussed opportunities for shellfish, seaweed, and finfish. It brought together local and international speakers to discuss the way forward for open ocean aquaculture in New Zealand, and the tools and technologies needed to support the industry.

New Zealand’s aquaculture industry is growing in response to globally increasing demand but is constrained by limited sheltered inshore farm space. The new frontier is open ocean aquaculture, where there are large tracts of consented space, although farming in exposed and dynamic waters is challenging.

Sustainable Seas researchers Chris Cornelisen, Jim Sinner and Ross Vennell were involved in talks and panel discussions. It’s important all parties have a say in making decisions, which are backed by excellent science, says Cawthron Institute Coastal and Freshwater Group Manager Dr Chris Cornelisen.

“Ocean science is as cool as rocket science,” he says. “Not every New Zealander can be an astronaut, but every New Zealander can be connected to the ocean. That’s why aquaculture is so important as an industry and a field of scientific study.  Technologies such as those developed in sustainable seas for defeating harmful algal blooms and forecasting land-based contamination in coastal waters will help enable the sustainable development of the industry”.

The Symposium heard about progress being made by industry in offshore shellfish farming in the Bay of Plenty and off the Canterbury coast, along with developments in technology that will enable finfish to be farmed in exposed conditions, and potential in seaweed farming.

Cawthron is helping to advance open ocean aquaculture technology through the development of new tools and methods to cost-effectively farm shellfish and finfish. International speakers focused on the welfare of fish and other animals farmed in the open ocean and on the workers operating the farms.

Social Scientist Jim Sinner discussed the importance of bringing the community along with the science and industry to ensure there is a “social licence to operate”. This term describes the ongoing acceptance of a company or industry's business practices by iwi, stakeholders, and the general public.

His Sustainable Seas research project has shown that iwi and communities want to be engaged before development projects take place and not after, he says. The quality of relationships is the single most important determinant of social licence, and each company needs to earn its own social licence and not rely on the reputation of the wider industry. “The day you think you've got social licence sorted and don't need to worry about it,  is probably the day you start losing it,” Jim said.

The Open Oceans Aquaculture Symposium attracted experts from Norway, Germany, USA, Chile, Australia as well as New Zealand. In addition, delegates also heard from local industry and iwi representatives, as well as government and economic points of view.

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