Aquaculture NZ Annual Conference

Marlborough Convention Centre,  Alfred Street, Blenheim


Tēnā tatou katoa. Thank you for the opportunity to talk at today’s conference.

It is a pleasure to be here in Marlborough, the birthplace of aquaculture in our country. I recently experienced first-hand the beauty of the Marlborough Sounds and the environment many of you work in, when I visited the region with my colleague Eugenie Sage, the Minister of Conservation.

That day allowed me to better understand some of the challenges the industry is facing, but also the opportunities before you.

I hear that this is the first year you are hosting the conference in Blenheim, rather than Nelson. I trust you will be enjoying all that the region has to offer.

I have been given twenty minutes in your programme but will keep an eye on the clock because I won't talk for that long and will instead make more time available for questions.

Conference theme

The theme of today’s conference is ‘Aquaculture, New Zealand’s Future’. I want to talk about my vision for the future: a future with your industry firmly anchored in our primary sector.

There are three key points I want to cover today:

  • The Government’s support for sustainable aquaculture;
  • The work underway to secure the future of the industry; and
  • The opportunities being focused upon to grow aquaculture.

The Government’s commitment to aquaculture

This Government is committed to aquaculture. In fact, recognising aquaculture’s potential in promoting regional economic growth is a priority of the Labour-New Zealand First Coalition Agreement. Our ambition is to realise the regional benefits of a sustainable, inclusive and productive aquaculture industry, in line with our economic vision to improve the wellbeing and living standards of New Zealanders. 

To support this ambition, Fisheries New Zealand is refreshing the Government’s aquaculture strategy for the next five years. The original strategy, launched back in 2012, focussed on creating a foundation for sustainable growth and greater community and Māori participation. We now need to look ahead, build on the work completed, and leverage off the strong relationships established over this time.

The refresh aims to identify and clearly outline where Fisheries New Zealand will focus its efforts to deliver on the opportunity of aquaculture. Broadly, that opportunity is to support regional economic growth, foster innovation, ensure environmental sustainability and build resilience to the challenges of biosecurity and climate change.

The refresh will also continue to acknowledge the importance of the values of tangata whenua and our communities when we make our decisions about aquaculture management, so that the industry continues to build the trust it needs to operate.

Fisheries New Zealand has discussed the strategy direction with Aquaculture New Zealand, and will continue to work with them to move this initiative forward.

Securing the future of your industry

We recognise the industry’s desire for greater certainty around its existing farms. We have directed officials to finalise the National Environmental Standard for Marine Aquaculture which aims to ensure consistency and efficiency in the consenting process under the Resource Management Act.

The consultation showed broad support for what was proposed. I expect it will be ready for a Cabinet decision later this year and implementation in 2019.

In terms of biosecurity, we are working across MPI, with industry and councils, to improve biosecurity practices on- and off-farm. Biosecurity is a key priority. That is why the NES included a proposed requirement for all marine farms to have on-farm biosecurity management plans.

I also acknowledge that your biosecurity depends on the actions of others, so we will continue to work across the whole biosecurity system to make sure our marine environment, and those who rely on it, are protected from harmful pests and diseases.

It is critical for stability and confidence in your future, to have a consistent supply of quality mussel spat.  Fisheries New Zealand is aware of the need to think strategically about spat supply across the range of spat sources you rely upon.

Management measures for the Greenlipped mussel spat fishery of Ninety Mile Beach were reviewed recently. I know many of you submitted to Fisheries New Zealand on the initial proposals on this fishery as part of the October Sustainability Round.

The spat ratio used to calculate the weight of mussel spat harvested at Ninety Mile Beach has now been amended by Fisheries New Zealand to reflect best available science. The more accurate ratio comes into effect on 1 October 2018.

In parallel with this reporting change, Fisheries New Zealand asked me to consider the management settings for this fishery.

I have chosen an option for the Total Allowable Commercial Catch that, in combination with the new spat ratio, will provide for increased harvest of mussel spat in response to the increased demand for mussel farming.

I am conscious of the concerns of tangata whenua about the way that harvesting occurs on Ninety Mile Beach. It is my expectation that a plan be developed collaboratively to manage the harvest that occurs at Ninety Mile Beach. This plan will reinforce the code of practice that was developed previously and consider other initiatives and opportunities to address concerns.

I was encouraged by Aquaculture New Zealand’s willingness to take leadership in this matter and I look forward to updates on progress.  The ability to work together now to resolve matters of importance to tangata whenua and the local community will help to shape the future of this fishery.  

Future growth

Aquaculture is already an important contributor to our seafood sector, accounting for nearly one quarter of the total annual seafood export value in 2017. And you are predicted to continue to be the key driver for growth in the seafood sector.

I understand that the goal is to grow towards $1 billion in revenue by 2025. That represents a doubling of your present earnings from $500 million last year.

But no one in the room believes we will get there without a step-change. The future will look different to today.

Here are a few facts that signpost a possible future:

The FAO states that about half the seafood the world eats comes from aquaculture. Demand is likely to increase, including at the premium end of the market.

The world now produces more farmed fish than it does farmed beef.

In the next 40 years, we must produce more food than the previous 10,000 years combined.

You have heard of impossible burgers? Faux-fish is part of the growing consumer trend towards plant-based proteins and foods.

The future presents an opportunity for us to grow animal protein in environmentally sound ways that may differ from traditional agricultural practices. Aquaculture is farming, but not as we traditionally think. The challenge now is where does New Zealand want to be placed on this future stage?

What role will aquaculture play? And what will your customers and markets want in the future?

My vision is that you will continue to stake your position of growing exceptional quality, sustainably produced seafood from New Zealand.

A focus on sustainability and innovation is good for business in the long-term. As consumer expectations change, the primary sector must innovate and adapt, while constantly improving environmental performance. Demonstrating your environmental credentials will remain important to your customers.

Animal welfare issues are increasingly of concern internationally and within New Zealand, including the welfare of farmed fish. We know that animal welfare is important to the public, your consumers, and to New Zealand’s trade reputation. This presents the opportunity for you to proactively communicate your commitments to best practice standards and continual improvement of husbandry and animal care.

Innovation and reputation

These factors are essential to maintaining “Brand New Zealand”, which lends huge value to products like mussels, oysters, salmon, and the other products you grow. Constantly improving and innovating allows you to uphold the values that underpin our story, and our brand as a high quality seafood provider.

Along with maintaining New Zealand’s reputation, future growth of your industry will be underpinned by research and innovation. Clever farmers, scientists and entrepreneurs are overflowing with ideas.

The Government, in partnership with industry and research organisations, invests significantly into aquaculture research (more than $60 million is currently committed over multiple years) – through programmes such as MPI’s Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures Fund (which combines the best of MPI’s previous investment programmes – the Sustainable Farming Fund and Primary Growth Partnership), and MBIE’s science investment funds.

The Government, with industry and international partners, is investing in further research into better engineering the open ocean shellfish farming systems to suit our conditions. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has committed $6 million over five years to this project.

This research puts New Zealand firmly at the forefront of a new territory in farming.  Other research is directed to improving environmental performance, lifecycle analysis, waste minimisation and energy efficiency, as part of a more holistic approach to sustainability.

Emerging technologies, being developed both internationally and here, will enable aquaculture in future to move further offshore and into specialised land-based production systems. We need to consider, as a country, how we enable these transitions to take place.

While on the subject of new opportunities I would like to acknowledge the recent announcement by the Waikato Regional Council that they have allocated the rights to Pare Hauraki Kaimoana to apply for resource consents in the 300 ha Coromandel Marine Farming Zone in Hauraki.

This zone was created as part of the 2011 Aquaculture Reforms to facilitate the trial and commercialisation of farming of a warmer water, high-value finfish species such as kingfish and hāpuku.  This announcement is an important step towards realising this aim and driving some significant regional benefits.

Regional development

The Provincial Growth Fund has real relevance to aquaculture, given the fund’s focus on lifting productivity in the provinces. Government has allocated $3 billion, over three years, for regionally focused initiatives to enhance economic development opportunities, create sustainable jobs and enable Māori to reach their full potential.

Of note to the Provincial Growth Fund is the work currently underway to address the key infrastructure needs of the growing aquaculture industry.

With the projected growth of mussel production through development of consented space in places like Tasman and Golden Bay, and Coromandel, there are valid concerns that existing facilities like Port Tarakohe and Sugarloaf wharf will not cope with future demands.

The Provincial Growth Fund is supporting the Marine Farming Association to prepare an application for funding for a feasibility study to look the infrastructure needs of Golden Bay to support the growing mussel farming sector in the region. That work may pave the way for a further application to the Provincial Growth Fund.

Officials are also supporting the Coromandel Marine Farmers Association with the development of their application for business case funding for the upgrade of Sugarloaf.  Both these initiatives present an opportunity to accommodate your future growth needs, as well as those of the community and wider region.

We are still working with the eastern Bay of Plenty on options for the Opotiki Harbour and other local initiatives. There is no doubt that aquaculture presents a compelling opportunity to transform the region, and agencies are continuing to investigate cost effective solutions and a way forward.

The Provincial Growth Fund extends beyond infrastructure, and I have been pleased to see a steady flow of applications to the fund that connect with new opportunities to develop your sector. And being in Marlborough, it would be remiss of me not to recognise the $772k investment announced in August in establishing a blue mussel processing plant here.

I would also like to acknowledge that Māori are key participants in the aquaculture industry now and in the future. We continue to work closely with iwi around the country to deliver the Crown’s aquaculture settlement obligations, further solidifying their position as leaders in this industry.

Concluding remarks

I do believe aquaculture will play an important role in New Zealand’s future. The Government will work with you to realise aquaculture’s potential to help improve the wellbeing and living standards of New Zealanders.

I believe a focus on innovation will be key to your future success - not just in terms of new science research. You need to think how you can innovate in the way you interact with your communities and stakeholders, innovate in how you market yourselves to your consumers here and overseas, and innovate in improving your environmental performance.

You will not get there alone. Key to reaching your goals is to bring others with you.  You need to keep building on your relationships – and be willing to keep collaborating with your communities, partners and with Government.

We all have a role to play in your future.