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Rich New Sea Harvest Looms

NEW ZEALAND - Nelson's Wakatu Incorporation is hosting a Chinese delegation which could be key to unlocking a multimillion-dollar industry producing sea cucumbers in the upper South Island.

Sea cucumbers already grow beneath Wakatu's mussel farms in the Marlborough Sounds and are a delicacy in Asia.

They could fetch from $50 to $3000 a kilogram.

Shangdong Oriental Ocean Group, a significant player in China's aquaculture industry, has some of its key people in Nelson looking at Wakatu's work in this field.

Wakatu aquaculture development manager Mark Allsopp said the Chinese produced 14,000 tonnes of sea cucumber annually and these were used for nutraceutical benefits, and as an aphrodisiac.

"They taste like sea cucumbers – I can't describe how they taste like anything similar."

The texture is firm and "almost rubbery". It was very much a high-end product appreciated by wealthy Asians, he said.

Dr Allsopp said Oriental Oceans was looking to diversify its business geographically. "New Zealand is in a growth phase in aquaculture, probably more so than in Australia, so we're in a prime position to team up with them."

Wakatu, having identified the need to have more than three key aquaculture sectors, has its own team of scientists and technicians to develop the industry.

"What we're aiming to do is transfer sea cucumber technology from China to New Zealand."

Dr Allsopp said trials on the sea cucumber growing beneath Wakatu's mussel farms in the Marlborough Sounds had been "quite positive".

"They're a little hoover and they will hoover up the mussel waste, so what that means is we're actually creating a by-product from our mussel farms."

That provided a huge marketing leverage and Oriental Oceans was also an important link in this regard because it was already well-established in the industry.

Dr Allsop said New Zealand had another advantage in that temperate-water sea cucumber was worth more than tropical-water species.

the Fish Site Editor

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