Innovation Fund
  • Active project

Thinking outside the can: Engineering toheroa aquaculture

Developing sustainable, community-based aquaculture in Te Taitokerau

Project Leader Duration Budget
Phil Ross (University of Waikato) & Taoho Patuawa (Te Roroa) December 2020 – June 2023 $250,000


The toheroa, an iconic surf clam and taonga species, were once plentiful on the west coast beaches of Te Taitokerau and were a world-renowned kaimoana. But populations collapsed in the 1960s after decades of unsustainable harvest, and harvesting was banned. Despite more than 50 years of protection, wild toheroa populations haven’t recovered.

However, spat (juvenile toheroa) still appear along the west coast in large numbers. While most of the spat will die in the wild, we believe they can be sustainably harvested to supply a community-based toheroa aquaculture industry.

On paper, toheroa are the perfect aquaculture species. Known to some iwi as ‘the food of the gods’, they are delicious, nutritious, fast growing and thrive at high densities. While growing wild-harvested spat on farms has been successful for the green-lipped mussel industry, we do not know if this approach will work for toheroa.

To find out if toheroa aquaculture is viable, we are working with our project partners to:

  • Look at the reliability and sustainability of wild toheroa spat supply
  • Determine the knowledge and technology we need to grow it in land-based aquaculture systems
  • Develop capacity and capability (including educational opportunities for upcoming generations) to support iwi and community leadership and participation in aquaculture

Overall, we are generating knowledge to facilitate the development of a sustainable toheroa aquaculture and create opportunities that will contribute positively to the social, cultural, economic, and ecological well-being of the people and communities of Te Taitokerau. This kaupapa may also serve as a model for other community-based aquaculture development in Aotearoa.

About our partners

Te Roroa are providing oversight and governance to ensure the outputs and outcomes meet the needs of the Māori communities of Te Taitokerau, and that our kaupapa is built on the principles of mauri, whakapapa, kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga.

Bluetide Aquaculture are supporting the governance of the project and they are providing and designing the aquaculture technology systems required.

Research Team

Phil Ross (University of Waikato)
Taoho Patuawa (Te Roroa)
Jonny Hill (Bluetide Aquaculture)
Leo Zamora (Cawthron Institute)


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

Te Roroa
Bluetide Aquaculture

Related News



  • March 2021
    Masters student(s) recruited
  • September 2021
    Conference presentations (NZMSS and NZ Aquaculture conferences); popular article on the research plan and tangata whenua aspirations
  • June 2022
    Popular article on progress and the ethics of harvesting wild spat for aquaculture
  • March 2023
    Infographic & report for project partners; popular article on the findings; final hui with project partners