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Cawthron Project Gets NZ$14.8 Million Boost

by Ellen Hardy
14 July 2008, at 1:00am

NEW ZEALAND - A major research project led by Nelsons Cawthron Institute intends to transform the aquaculture industry with new high-value shellfish species and dramatically improved growing conditions to allow a much-extended harvest season.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is investing NZ$14.8 million over five years in the institute’s Adding Value to Cultured Shellfish research project, one of the 96 contestable research projects announced today in the Foundation’s main 2008 Investment Round.

Shellfish aquaculture currently contributes some NZ$256 million a year to the New Zealand economy and is dominated by a single species, the Greenshell mussel, which is grown from wild seed and marketed largely as a commodity product.

The seasonality of wild stock means consistent volume and quality are difficult to achieve.

Competition with existing users for new inshore farm space makes expansion difficult. The dependence on a single species exposes the industry to risk.

Foundation chief executive Murray Bain says Cawthron’s project aims to turn those constraints into opportunities by unlocking the full potential of existing species and water space; new water space and new high value species; and by securing these gains through proactive risk management.

"Cawthron has assembled a team with a strong track record for delivering high quality research that makes a real difference to the New Zealand seafood industry," Murray Bain said.

"The strengths of Cawthron and Crop & Food will be combined to deliver a comprehensive and vertically integrated whole of value chain programme, focused on developing new tools and technologies that will lead to enhanced shellfish stocks and effective management of risk."

The newly formed national organisation, Aquaculture NZ, is implementing a sector strategy that includes a target of NZ$1 billion in sales by 2025.

Its draft strategy identifies the need to drive sustainable growth through increased efficiency of production systems, innovation for new species and productions systems, and security through management of biosecurity and other risks.

This research programme has been developed in response to the strategy and the priorities of New Zealand’s major aquaculture companies.

Maori owned businesses are major players in the aquaculture sector, so the spill-over benefit to Maori business development will be significant. The project will see the targeted application of selective breeding to the existing Greenshell mussel value chain to increase grower and processor revenue by shortening the crop cycle, increasing per hectare yield, increasing process yield, and maximising the yield of high value grades.

Extending and smoothing the harvest season will reduce costs and make high-grade product available year round. Breeding stress-resilient mussels and selecting for consumer attributes will develop new high value products, for example long-life chilled, "extra tender" mussels.

New high value species will be domesticated to grow alongside existing species with minimal investment in new infrastructure, yielding increased revenue and spreading risk.

High-efficiency mussels and high value species will make open ocean aquaculture profitable, expanding the water space available for aquaculture.

A biosecurity risk management framework and new tools for pest and disease management will ensure the future security of the industry.

Cawthron is partnering with the Crown research institute Crop & Food Research Ltd as well as Victoria University for the project, which is receiving strong support from several leading aquaculture companies and organizations to ensure the research results have good applicability for the industry in order to grow and sustain the New Zealand aquaculture industry.

Cawthron chief executive Gillian Wratt says the research is vital to growing and protecting our shellfish export markets.

"We are pleased to be able to make such a significant contribution to the industry," she said.

"The research will give the industry greater control over the quality of their product – enabling them to reap the same benefits from selective breeding that have been enjoyed by land-based industries for hundreds of years. Linking in with Aquaculture New Zealand's market research and Crop & Food's sensory experts will enable us to provide industry with the ability to develop a range of high value products for consumers seeking safe, sustainable and healthy seafood.

"This is about providing practical research-based solutions that will help boost our export industry," she said.

Ellen Hardy