Farmed eel: The next big thing for NZ aquaculture

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
25 May 2007, at 1:00am

NEW ZEALAND - Eel farming could be NZ's next big aquaculture business, says Government Minister Jim Anderton. Opening a new purpose-built aquaculture centre at the Mahurangi Technical Institute, Warkworth, he said aquaculture had almost limitless potential for New Zealand.

Commercial eel fishing was a viable industry in NZ and at one point in the nineteen seventies the country had thirty-five small eel processing plants. "The eel farming industry is highly valued world-wide, but the industry around the world is under threat from the uncertain supply of juvenile glass eels. We can't develop eel aquaculture until we can breed eels in captivity. So that makes this facility and the research it does very important," said Mr Anderton.

The Mahurangi Institute's pioneering work on the eel breeding is impressive. It's among the top three institutes in the world working in this area of research and claims to be the first to produce commercial quantities of eels in captivity. The institute is also working on the development a range of freshwater species, in addition to eels.

"This facility is important because it's about building skills, knowledge and innovation. These are the ingredients that help us achieve value and higher living standards from our natural resources. And this facility is about world-class research in a region with exciting potential," he said.

Aquaculture New Zealand has identified research as a top priority and the sector is awash with innovations - and much of it geared to high value primary products. Eel farming has huge potential because of the countries close location to major markets in Japan and the Far East. To date, New Zealand is farming only a few freshwater species on any significant commercial scale and aquaculturalists are eager to explore the potential of new and higher-value species.

Government investment
The NZ government is backing the work and has invested $630,000 in the Institute's eel research as part of the Technology for Business Growth programme.

"If we can succeed here, then we will be able to develop a self-sustaining eel farming industry. Eel aquaculture could potentially be New Zealand's next big aquaculture species," said Mr Anderton.

A recent United Nations report on the world's growing demand for fish and seafood estimated that the worldwide demand for seafood will grow by a third in the next ten years. Wild fish stocks cannot support this growth and the development of aqauculture is vital.

The NZ sector already has sales worth around a million dollars a day and the industry wants it to increase that to a billion dollars a year - equivalment to $3 million a day - in under twenty years.

"We're seeing growth in exciting ways and this is a good example of how research and knowledge can lead to higher standards. The world has no more natural resources than it did a hundred years ago - in fact, we arguably have fewer," said Mr Anderton. "The more we add knowledge, the higher our standard of living grows and the better we can be at sustaining our resources."

Ancestral benefit
The development of aquaculture is also key importance to the Maori community. Within the next 40 years, more than 40 percent of New Zealand's work force will be of Maori or Pacific Island ancestry, and the ecomonic development of this community is integral to New Zealand's economic development.

"We need Maori businesses to succeed and prosper, and in our seafood industries we are seeing some very strong stories of Maori success. Aquaculture can take that to a new level, helping economic development at both regional and national level and benefiting Maori communities directly," said Mr Anderton.

To read the complete speech click here