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What is Open Ocean Aquaculture?

Is it possible to have sustainable fish farming (aquaculture) in New Zealand waters? One research company thinks so. But what is Open Ocean aquaculture and how is it different to fish farming?

What is Aquaculture?

Aquaculture has been a very productive industry in this millennium, with New Zealand ranking as 34th in the world for aquaculture production (109,016.20 metric tons in 2016). The three main cultured species in New Zealand are Green-lipped mussels, Pacific Oysters, and King Salmon.

Viewed as a way to combat overfished stocks and unsustainable use of resources, aquaculture has generated a billion-dollar industry around the world with New Zealand on track for a billion dollars by 2025.


Is current aquaculture sustainable?

As with traditional commercial fishing, New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries has oversight on aquaculture in New Zealand. MPI receives guidance from other agencies such as the Cawthron Institute, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, the Department of Conservation, and other local Government agencies and councils on aquacultures' ecological effects to plan for and manage sustainable aquaculture. MPI promotes sustainability within the aquaculture industry, claiming that aquaculture of Salmon, for example, has a "very low carbon footprint, low water use, and low land use" from the input of raw materials, compared to other animal farming systems.


With so many oversight agencies, increasing fish stocks and demand, and boosting the NZ economy, are there any negatives to aquaculture? Currently, aquaculture farms are located along the coastlines around New Zealand and create environmental disruptions in their own right. Safe.org states that waste from aquaculture goes untreated in New Zealand waters, affirming the larger the operation the higher the pollution. There are other concerning factors regarding aquaculture farming methods, such as constant sorting of fish, overcrowding, and leaving the species vulnerable to predators.


Many eco and environmental activists are speaking out against aquaculture around the world. The Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) has taken a harsh stand against Salmon Farming in Scotland, an industry that now sees 200 salmon farms around the island. S&TC claims salmon farming has contributed to the decrease in the natural migration of wild salmon (a thousand-mile journey that has taken place for millennia) due to lice that occur in salmon farming operations. Additional concerns have been raised that 20% (around 9.5 million) farmed salmon die in salmon farms in Scotland every year. That begs the question, can fish farming and sustainability go hand-in-hand?


Open Ocean Aquaculture.

Plant and Food Research have started the discussion on open ocean aquaculture in New Zealand. Open ocean aquaculture would see fish-farming moved from New Zealand coastlines to the open ocean. Using state-of-the-art technology to manipulate the environment, this method may give fish the best chance of surviving and thriving. The biggest distinction in Plant and Food Research's Open Ocean Aquaculture strategy is the removal of large rigs surrounding the farms and allowing for the environment and fish management to be controlled remotely via technology. This approach is unlike any aquaculture system in the world.


Suzy Black, Open Ocean Aquaculture Direction Leader at Plant and Food Research, believes moving aquaculture to the open ocean allows New Zealand to meet global demand while taking into account the fish's 'point of view' by incorporating a unique mobile approach. The mobile approach can offer sea temperature warming (moving fish away from warmer weather if needed) and fish diversification (expanding fin-fish species that are currently farmed in New Zealand). Open Ocean aquaculture is not new. It is currently taking place offshore in many European countries including Norway, Ireland and Spain. By using less physical structures and combining what is already known about aquaculture and designing new technology to meet all of the needs for stakeholders, including the fish, New Zealand is on track to become a world leader in truly sustainable fish farming practices.

While Plant Food and Research are still in the technical design phase, ensuring systems can withstand the tough elements of the open ocean, the organisation is confident this type of aquaculture is the right way to meet global demand, stimulate the New Zealand economy, and keep fish in environments they are used to.


What do you know about Open ccean aquaculture? We would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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