An international team of marine scientists led by AUT ecologist Dr Kay Vopel is developing a new protocol to assess the environmental impact of offshore fish farming.
This development, funded by New Zealand Seafood Innovations and the Australian Blue Economy Cooperative Research Center, supports the relocation and expansion of aquaculture into offshore waters––a response to rising coastal sea temperatures and a critical step for the marine economic development in New Zealand and worldwide.
Offshore seafloor ecosystems are adapted to low organic input and potentially sensitive to organic enrichment from fish farming, says Dr Vopel.
“A fundamental assumption used to argue for offshore aquaculture, however, is that operating in deeper water will increase the dispersion of organic waste and so lessen impacts such as those documented underneath fish farms in shallow coastal waters.”
He says, “Our understanding of the metabolic response of deep, offshore sediment to organic enrichment is limited, and so is our ability to predict the seafloor’s capacity to assimilate organic waste.”
The research team, which includes nine scientists from six institutions, is receiving logistical support from two industry partners to deploy measurement robots in deep water.
“This work will lay the ground for a better understanding and future analysis of the environmental performance of offshore fish farms and enable the development of predictive tools and legislative and policy frameworks to support sustainable fish production.”
Phase one of the programme will begin in January 2021 in the Hauraki Gulf, in partnership with NIWA and at the top of the South Island with New Zealand King Salmon. The project, which has secured $2.7 million in funding, is part of a wider 10-year international Blue Economy research initiative, bringing together government, academic and industry partners to address the challenges of offshore food and renewable fuel production in Australia and New Zealand.
Project participants are: AUT, University of Tasmania, Griffith University, CSIRO, NIWA, East China Sea Fisheries Research Institute, Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, New Zealand King Salmon, Tassal Group.