Kingfish promising for aquaculture

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
17 March 2007, at 12:00am

NEW ZEALAND - A huge nautical pocket of warm nutrient-rich water, the Firth of Thames holds the key to the newest and most promising player on the New Zealand aquaculture stage - the kingfish.

Thousands of 20-centimetre fingerlings are ready and waiting at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research's hatchery in Northland to kick-start what some hope could be a $1 billion industry in farmed fish within the next 20 years.

That goal hinges on New Zealand's shift away from its present reliance on mussels, oysters, paua and salmon.

With worldwide demand for seafood fast outstripping what can be drawn from wild stocks, more countries are looking to develop fish farming quickly and intensively.

The United States will announce a plan this week to allow deep-water fish farm development in its waters to bolster its aquaculture industry, which supplies less than a quarter of the US$4.5 billion (NZ$6.6 billion) of farmed seafood consumed by Americans every year.

The beauty of kingfish farming stems from the economic use of space pioneered by the salmon industry and its value on the global market.

New Zealand's aquaculture earnings are low internationally, at less than $2000 a tonne, compared with Australia's $30,000 a tonne from higher-value species such as tuna and prawns.

With the prospect of raising 1200 tonnes of kingfish in one 10-hectare block, estimates of the market value are up to 30 times what mussels earn for the industry.

Japan grows and immediately eats 99 per cent of the world's farmed kingfish, importing more to satisfy local demand, which leaves significant potential for New Zealand to exploit.

But for all the potential, kingfish farming is an idea that has yet to prove its worth.