In a recent article published on Newsroom it was suggested farmed salmon might not be the answer in reducing pressure on wild fish stocks in our ocean. New Zealand King Salmon is part of an industry that thinks differently.

It will be no surprise to anyone that as a salmon farming company we would say that. No one is going to deny that we want the best for a company that has ambitions to grow internationally, employs over 500 people in the Top of the South and provides income opportunities to a wide range of partners through the supply chain.

We are also very proud of the low-impact, highly nutritious King salmon we grow and the positive impact our salmon products have on diets and lifestyles worldwide, whether human or pet.

In terms of other industries, salmon farming in New Zealand is relatively young but has still been around for over 35 years. The country produces 75 percent of the world’s king salmon. This is tiny on the world scale, accounting for less than 1 percent of the global salmon supply.

In our submission to the Climate Commission’s draft report to the Government, we said the aquaculture sector can and should play a pivotal role in reducing New Zealand’s emissions. To this end we believe New Zealand is capable of developing a world-leading aquaculture industry that is the greenest primary industry in the country. Open ocean farming, where farms are positioned in deeper and less sheltered waters and currents are stronger, is part of this future vision, providing the best conditions to produce quality protein on a greater scale with a low environmental footprint.

This view is supported by the Government which launched an Aquaculture Strategy in 2019 with a target of $3 billion annual revenue by 2035 (currently $650 million a year). This target has recently been brought forward to 2030 with open ocean finfish farming named as a key contributor.

The Government also references aquaculture in its Fit for a Better World report, “Aquaculture offers huge potential for sustainable growth, and early action would deliver this growth sooner.” It includes “unlocking open ocean aquaculture opportunities, which will increase the value of aquaculture to iwi and coastal communities”.

Currently there are three applications working through the consents process to farm in the open ocean – our own Blue Endeavour application, which is 7km north of Cape Lambert in the Cook Strait, and two off Stewart Island from Sanford and Ngāi Tahu.

Open ocean aquaculture has a range of benefits including improved biosecurity, a reduction in the effects of seasonal temperature changes, improved fish welfare and reduced environmental and community impacts. Done in the correct way also has the backing of independent science organisations, including the Cawthron Institute. Their aquaculture scientist Kevin Heasman says from a New Zealand perspective, open ocean aquaculture has massive potential. “We’ve got a huge marine estate, no close neighbours, and by combining appropriate environmental and site planning with smart farming systems, we can sustainably realise the value of our open ocean resources.”

With over four hundred million hectares of ocean space on New Zealand’s doorstep – 15 times bigger than our land area and the fourth largest marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world – farming a tiny proportion of the ocean could provide a significant future source of healthy, sustainable protein.

According to an independent report commissioned by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and prepared by EnviroStrat, “Open ocean aquaculture has great potential to contribute to food security, livelihoods (both in the regions and main centres) and the economic growth of New Zealand.”

The report also states that farmed salmon “offers a very compelling environmental and human health story by comparison with other farming systems in New Zealand”. It says farmed salmon has a very low carbon footprint, low water use and low ‘land use’ from input of raw materials compared to all other animal farming systems.”

When you consider the health properties of salmon, whether farmed or wild, the nutritional advantage is clear over most other proteins. Whilst wild salmon may have a higher level of omega-3, there’s only a limited amount of wild salmon available worldwide before it becomes an unsustainable choice.

Farmed salmon is recognised by many health experts as being a healthy choice due to being rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and a natural source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids considered essential. Just one 100g serving will provide enough omega-3 to cover three days of your needs for women and two days for men. Health experts also say eating salmon on a regular basis may help protect against heart disease.

We know that feed for our salmon is our largest impact, but also our greatest opportunity with exciting technological solutions appearing rapidly. The amount of fish meal and fish oil we use in feed has already been reduced significantly over the years – in 2020 it was down to 10.4 percent fish meal and 6 percent fish oil. We anticipate novel marine (algae) or insect proteins will reduce this even further in years to come.

Regardless, we focus on sustainably sourcing our feed through certified, independently verified organisations and we have implemented specific sourcing requirements on certain ingredients. Our feed does not contain ingredients of genetically modified/transgenic origin, antibiotics, palm oil, growth hormones or promoters, or artificial colouring.

As expected, salmon farming is a highly regulated industry. Our farms, hatcheries and processing plant are regulated by the Ministry for Primary Industries and our seafarm consent conditions are reviewed annually by Marlborough District Council. We also participate in respected third-party certifications to demonstrate we pursue the highest standards possible. Regular independent audits are conducted by auditors for the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).

We know there is still much we can learn and improve on and we strive to do that every day. We are very aware of our surroundings and the privilege we enjoy by being able to farm in the Marlborough Sounds and none of our team take that responsibility lightly.

“Working where I grew up means so much to me – this place has big significance to me and my family,” says Graeme Aldrige of Te Atiawa who has worked for the company for 20 years. Aldrige, who is part of the fish welfare team, says there have been four generations of fishermen in his family.

“I believe in kaitiakitanga and protecting our environment by having guardianship and educating our rangatahi and tamariki, especially in the Marlborough Sounds. They, the Marlborough sounds is my tūrangawaewae, this is my family’s identity and my backyard. I have an obligated role of making sure that we do look after and protect our environment.

“My unofficial role here at NZKS is to show how important the environment is to all of us and to work together to promote sustainability and promote wellness and health to us all as tangata whenua.”

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