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Wakatu Incorporation is an emerging giant of New Zealand’s aquaculture industry. With plans to build a centre dedicated to blending science and innovation to add value to NZ’s seafood exports, the future looks bright for our budding aquaculture entrepreneurs.
It’s home to New Zealand’s deep-sea fishing industry and the largest fishing port in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also home to an awakening taniwha that is quickly captivating the imagination of New Zealand’s marine industry. With an exciting new enterprise in the pipeline, Nelson is on the crest of a breaking wave set to entice aquaculture gurus and scientists alike. All that stands in the way of global market dominance is a capital investment of $33.5 million and a little faith that New Zealand has the skills and expertise to become a leader in aquaculture research and commercial development.
The Horoirangi Centre for Seafood and Aquaculture Innovation is the brain child of Wakatu Incorporation, a collectively owned Maori business based in Nelson. Wakatu is currently investigating the viability of developing a world-class aquaculture research institute with facilities that will include laboratories, commercial hatcheries, nurseries, aquatic land-based research ponds and educational facilities. “We’re going to build a centre for commercial and scientific collaboration for aquaculture innovation. Then we’re going to translate that intellectual capital to demand premium prices for NZ seafood products,” says Chief Executive, Keith Palmer.
After months of consultation, Wakatu are spearheading a region-wide drive to secure a grant of NZ$10 million from the Enterprising Partnership Fund which will be used to advance the initial stages of the project. It has already signed MOUs with five education providers and plans to partner with other local aquaculture players like the Cawthron Institute. “We believe the costs will reach $40 million to build the site infrastructure, but we’re only asking the government to contribute $10 million,” says Palmer. Once the required infrastructure is established the pathway will be open for additional investment in research and technology that will give NZ seafood products a point of difference in the international market.
Around 80% of NZ’s aquaculture products are currently grown in Te Tau Ihu (Nelson-Marlborough), including green shell mussels, salmon, oysters, paua, rock lobsters and finfish. Wakatu is confident Horoirangi will boost exports by finding ways to shorten life cycles for high value species and by breeding wild fin fish species that are currently in decline. “We’re already looking at setting up a Hapuka hatchery as well as a hatchery for shellfish with other industry players. The potential is huge and will have big international significance technology wise,” says Palmer.
While aquaculture is the fastest growing sector world-wide and is expanding its production at a rate of 15% a year, world seafood consumption is estimated to rise to 35% by 2015. With a concomitant decline in wild fisheries there are simply not enough fish in the sea to meet demand so future needs will have to be met from farming. Through Horoirangi, Wakatu aims to strengthen its partnerships with regional stakeholders, foster a climate to maximise innovation and promote ecologically sustainability methods to expand NZ’s aquaculture exports. “It’s about being smarter and being ahead of global competition so we can demand top prices in high value markets,” says Palmer.
If Wakatu is successful in their bid to central Government, the aquaculture industry will likely receive the shot in the arm it needs to achieve its target of reaching a one billion turnover by 2025. With a dual focus on creating maximum wealth for its owners, whilst upholding local cultural traditions and environmental values, Wakatu believes that establishing Horoirangi will offer business opportunities that fit with the aspirations of its Maori owners. “Wakatu is a brand that stands for integrity and we have a business model that aims to promote cultural and environmental sustainability through commerce,” says Palmer. After all, Wakatu are a people of the land and sea and that relationship is personified by their tipuna Horoirangi.”