NZ's next billion dollar industry

In a sheltered bay in the spectacular Marlborough Sounds at the northern end of New Zealand's South Island you can see a glimpse of hidden treasure. Bobbing gently not far from the passing ferries to Wellington, to the untrained eye they're nondescript rows of floating buoys.

"There is tremendous potential for New Zealand to increase its sustainable wealth from the ocean."
George Clement, Chairman of Seafood New Zealand

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Photo Credit: Aquaculture

But what lies below is at the heart of what is tipped to become the country's next billion dollar industry. Growing on suspended underwater lines, greenshell mussels are one of the 'big three' species underpinning a rapidly growing aquaculture industry.

Along with pacific oysters and king salmon, greenshell mussels are enjoyed in around 80 countries where increasingly affluent consumers are hungry for premium, protein-rich food. Aquaculture, the raising of plants or animals in water, was barely heard of in New Zealand 40 years ago. Since then it has truly come out of its shell, growing into an export industry employing 3,000 Kiwis, with annual revenue of over $NZ400 million. But the industry is not content to tread water.

With ambitions to diversify by increasing exports of other species such as kingfish, it has a target of lifting annual sales to $NZ1 billion within a decade. In doing so, it has the potential to bring much-needed jobs and export earnings to regional New Zealand, complementing the success of the already $NZ1 billion-plus wild fish sector. With an abundance of sheltered harbours, bays and inlets, combined with high water quality, world-class environmental management and a reputation for safe, high quality food, New Zealand seems ideally positioned to flex its mussels – punching well above its weight in the global arena.

George Clement, Chairman of Seafood New Zealand, believes the industry's potential for sustainable growth means it is ripe for further investment.

“There is tremendous potential for New Zealand to increase its sustainable wealth from the ocean, starting with aquaculture," he says.

“We need to encourage investment by providing security of access. One hectare of prime salmon farming can produce $NZ20 million a year without any permanent environmental damage – where can you get that on land?"


Aquaculture is the world's fastest-growing primary industry and with demand for farmed seafood tipped to keep rising as wild-catch levels stay relatively flat against a growing global population, the size of the wave to be ridden should not be underestimated.

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Photo Credit: Aquaculture

But it's a wave other nations too are chasing. The vast majority of global aquaculture production takes place in the Asia-Pacific region, with China a significant producer albeit primarily for its domestic market.

Though New Zealand's share of the global market is small it tends to compete at the higher end of the market where buyers are prepared to pay more for superior products. Grant Nicholls, Institutional Relationships Director at ANZ New Zealand, says New Zealand's seafood producers, including local giants Sealord and Sanford, have a particular focus on the growth markets of Asia-Pacific, whose swelling middle classes are driving a rising tide of demand.

Such is seafood's contribution to the Kiwi economy, and its potential for further growth, that ANZ backed the seafood industry's national conference for 15 years as principal sponsor. In an address to this year's event, Nicholls spoke of the opportunity to maximise export returns by thinking beyond natural resources while adding value through research, technology and innovation.

“Being a small island nation offers great natural advantages for raising world-class seafood," Nicholls says.

“But it also poses challenges for our exporters. To gain the scale to compete on the global stage, we need to see more collaboration and co-operation, including joint ventures, partnerships and shared arrangements."


Nicholls believes fully grasping the opportunities and adding value will take a sector-wide approach. Kiwi exporters need to play to their national strengths and market New Zealand's points of difference. “There was a time when having the highest standards of food safety was a selling point but that's now – literally – a hygiene factor," he says.

“To persuade sophisticated consumers to pay a premium for our seafood we need to demonstrate that ours are truly premium products. That demands a really strong focus on quality, health, safety, traceability and reliability and that, in New Zealand's case, we also have a compelling environmental story to tell."

At a time when concerns about environmental degradation, excessive use of antibiotics and additives and resource depletion are starting to impact some established food producing countries, New Zealand's environmental credentials give it a head start.

Through its quota management system and aquaculture licenses it is home to what's regarded as one of the world's most sustainably-managed fisheries.

“This has made us think and act differently – providing a vision and platform for ensuring future usage," Nicholls says.

“That's sustainability. We should be using our status as a leader in sustainable resource management as a differentiator to strengthen our position in the global market. It's a great story and it supports our competitive advantage."

This advantage was reinforced earlier this year when the country's salmon farming industry achieved a world first with a 'Green Light' endorsement from Seafood Watch, an authoritative consumer guide on sustainable seafood.

Nicholls detects a sense of frustration from some that the industry doesn't always get the green recognition it deserves.

“The various stakeholders are sometimes portrayed as being pitted against each other," he says. “But the truth is that, as an industry and as a country, we all want sustainable fisheries. It makes no sense to not want this. It should be something we can all unite around.

“Everyone is interested in health and abundance for all. A sustainable resource makes good business sense – wasting resources doesn't. It's good for business, good for future generations and good for the environment."

Pete Barnao, Communications Manager Media, ANZ New Zealand.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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