Global Agriculture

MPI backs innovative land-based salmon farm

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13 October 2022, NZ: A prototype for New Zealand’s first sustainable, land-based salmon farm is in the early stages of development, with backing from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund.   

SFF Futures is committing $6.7 million over 6 years to the $16.7 million project, which was officially launched in Twizel today. Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker attended the launch and visited the freshwater salmon farms to hear about Mt Cook Alpine Salmon’s plans for building the prototype.

“Demand for healthy, sustainably produced aquaculture products continues to grow, and land-based salmon farming will enable New Zealand to boost the supply of this high-quality, high-value product,” says Steve Penno, MPI’s director of investment programmes.

Mr Penno says the project aligns with the Government’s aquaculture strategy, which outlines a sustainable growth pathway to an additional $3 billion in annual revenue. 

“Land-based projects are a key pillar of the aquaculture strategy, which relies on innovation across the sector.

“This project is an excellent example of smart thinking to explore what land-based farming could look like for New Zealand, based on next generation salmon farming techniques.

“It also fits with the Government and industry Fit for a Better World roadmap for the food and fibre sector, which aims to boost sustainability, productivity and jobs over 10 years.”

Mt Cook Alpine Salmon CEO David Cole says the company is delighted to be partnering with SFF Futures.

“There are always risks associated with innovative projects like this, and Government support helps cushion this risk and accelerate outcomes,” Mr Cole says.

“Despite the difficult market conditions over the last few years, our customers love the taste of our unique freshwater king salmon and demand continues to exceed our supply. This co-funding enables us to expand our production capacity through a new way of farming that has the potential to be a game-changer for the company and the aquaculture sector in New Zealand.”

Mr Cole says the plan is to create a sustainable 1000-metric-tonne hybrid structure that will use a part flow-through system to emulate the unique conditions of the glacial-fed canals. The facility will be designed to optimise energy use through gravity-fed water and integrating renewable and low-energy solutions. 

“This differs from the recirculated water systems used by most overseas land-based farms.  

“The design will capture waste, control the flows better to suit the fish, and provide a stable, ideal growing environment. Being land-based, it has the opportunity to deliver greater automation and monitoring systems in an all-weather working environment. 

“The nutrients from the salmon operation will be collected to support an aquaponics crop, taking a circular approach and generating value from a zero-value waste stream. This will link to a wetland area that would further purify the water.”

The location of the farm had yet to be determined, but would be within either the Mackenzie or Waitaki Districts. 

Other initiatives that will be explored through the SFF Futures partnership include new best practice processing standards for ready-to-eat salmon, and trialling the commercial viability of sockeye salmon, which is usually seasonal and generally only available as wild-caught. 

Mt Cook Alpine Salmon board chairman, Sir Bill English, says it is an exciting project. 

“Mt Cook Alpine Salmon pioneered salmon farming in the hydro-canals in 1992. It is very fitting that it will continue to lead the way with this innovative approach to a land-based farm. A successful pilot will see the opportunity to scale up and to later replicate the proven concept, with huge potential overseas,” Sir Bill says.

Mr Penno says there are more than 70 land-based salmon projects internationally – either in their planning stage, under construction, or already in operation.

“Mt Cook Alpine Salmon already has international expertise in building land-based salmon farms within its aquaculture division, and will harness this knowledge. They’ll also consult with global experts to design the advanced water management system.”

Mr Penno says the project will lead to new job opportunities in Twizel. 

“This new salmon farming approach could lead to significant employment and professional career opportunities in both aquaculture and applied technologies, in a remote part of the country.

“It will build on our international reputation as a producer of high-quality aquaculture products, and develop another opportunity to create a nutritionally rich protein product that can be offered to consumers.”

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