In the world of New Zealand aquaculture, there is no avoiding comparing yourself against the standard set by the Norwegians and, in particular, the Norway government’s commitment to the industry.

Norway’s aquaculture industry is 91 percent farmed salmon and has gone from 100 tonnes in 1971 to 1.3 million tonnes in 2015. They have also halved production time, use 30 percent less feed, reduced the effects on the sea floor, reduced escapes, and developed vaccines so antibiotic use is almost eliminated.

At the Aquaculture New Zealand annual conference in Blenheim yesterday, Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash faced questions about his government’s support and the frustration with what the industry saw as the snail’s pace of progress.

Nash talked about Fisheries New Zealand’s vision for the aquaculture sector, saying the three key points were the governments support for sustainable aquaculture, the work underway to secure the industry’s future, and opportunities to grow aquaculture.

“This government is committed to aquaculture. It is part of our coalition agreement with NZ First and we recognise the potential for regional economic growth – and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones is traveling the country talking about how he can use the Provincial Growth Fund to further grow the industry,” Nash said.

Fisheries New Zealand is refreshing the government’s aquaculture strategy over the next five years. The original strategy launched in 2012 and Nash acknowledged industry frustration with uncertainty around existing farms. He said technology and innovation need to be utilised to mitigate some of the risks that exist in the current environment.

“We are finalising the National Environmental Standards for Marine Aquaculture which aim to provide consistency and efficiency under consenting in the Resource Management Act. We expect a Cabinet decision later this year and implementation in 2019.”

New Zealand King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne argued that he didn’t see from this government an end-to-end cohesive strategy for aquaculture in New Zealand, unlike Norway.

Rosewarne said; “There are good intentions, but there is back-sliding and it is extremely difficult to make progress. Norway has a strategy that is well thought through and is being executed brilliantly – it puts us to shame, so what are you going to do about that?”

Nash responded that he had had that discussion with Fisheries New Zealand officials.

“I want to know where we want the industry to be in five years’ time and fifty years’ time. But it takes a while to develop, let alone to implement and I suspect I will be long gone before the industry reaches the point they’re at in Norway,” said Nash.

“I look at the way Norway does its fisheries and it is an exemplar.  Norway got to where it is because of massive investment from the government and that is one of the reasons Shane Jones and myself are very keen to see applications from innovative aquaculture players who have done the testing, know their markets and just need start-up capital to get across the line.

“The money is there to do this. I don’t know if the money is going to be there in two years’ time. Very rarely do you get a $3 billion blank cheque so if anyone is doing innovative stuff in aquaculture get your application in soon because my very real concern is that applications in June 2020 will be too late.”