Mer Tales: New Zealand

Mer tales from travels in New Zealand. A few days ago I was driving through the South Island, and happened to see a salmon farm sign. As someone who teaches students about sustainable fish practices I was immediately interested to get some details. Armed with my tail and a notepad, I marched right into the cafe with many questions, from antibiotics to spread of disease problems. And for once, I was wonderfully surprised! 


Salmon aquaculture (farming) is the industrial production of salmon from egg to market in a net-cage, pond or contained system. Most of the industry still uses open net-cages in the ocean, and these floating feedlots hold up to a million fish in an area the size of two football fields.


World Wide Fund for Nature have identified what they call "seven key environmental and social impacts", here are a few of them:


"Benthic impacts and siting: Chemicals and excess nutrients from food and feces associated with salmon farms can disturb the flora and fauna on the ocean bottom. Chemical inputs: Excessive use of chemicals - such as antibiotics, anti-foulants and pesticides - or the use of banned chemicals can have unintended consequences for marine organisms and human health. Disease/parasites: Viruses and parasites can transfer between farmed and wild fish, as well as among farms. Escapes: Escaped farmed salmon can compete with wild fish and interbreed with local wild stocks of the same population, altering the overall pool of genetic diversity." 


The South Westland Salmon farm I visited has reduced all of these problems! They are a small land based operation that only produces enough fish for the local community. 


The operation began in 1986 with an investigation into the feasibility of Ocean Ranching. 


The focus then turned to 'Pond Rearing', where the salmon spend their entire life cycle in fresh water (based on the fact that some salmon naturally landlock themselves.)


In 1991, with salmon coming on stream from the ponds, a small shop, 'kiosk style', was opened at Waituna Creek. The salmon products, plus food items and souvenirs were offered for sale. This proved to be a success, and the existing shop and café, opened in November 1995.


The salmon are raised in circular nets attached to pontoons, which rise and fall with flood waters. This works very well with the clean, cool waters of Waituna Creek producing excellent flavoured, firm fleshed fish.

No antibiotics are used in the salmon rearing process - the salmon are free from diseases because of the isolation and clean, non-polluted stream where they are raised. The salmon are fed on a specially formulated pelletized fish food.

Harvesting begins at 18 months old, with a pan sized salmon weighting about 800 grammes. They are then harvested daily, according to demand. Salmon eggs are sourced from the Salmon Smolt NZ hatchery on the Waimakariri River. These eggs are then hatched at the farm. After six weeks they "swim up" as an alevin ready to feed. They remain in the hatchery until they are fingerlings and then transferred into the pond. 


The salmon farming and processing side of the operation is very simple, based on commonsense principals of cleanliness, hygiene, freshness and low stocking density to produce the best quality of happy fish.


Yes I still and will consider (almost) all salmon farms to be something that is bad and unsustainable for our environment, however it was nice to see an idea that is able to sustain a specific community without the general impacts that usually are reaped from farming. It's neat when something can change your very strict perceptions of problems that the world is facing, and open ideas for new opportunities and world changing practices. How can you encourage more of these kinds of local farmers to keep sustainable practices? Find your local fishermen and see what they are selling, how they are catching their fish, and buy from those who maintain marine health. 


💙 Kaia