14 Mar 2024

Fish out of water - How to grow fish on land

From Voice of Tangaroa, 5:00 am on 14 March 2024
A man standing knee-deep in water in a circular tank bends over a white rectangular box and holds a large fish in his hands. A second rectangular white box has another fish lying in it.

In an aquaculture setting, broodstock kingfish – which reach 1.7 metres in length and weigh more than 40 kilograms – must be knocked out before handling. The NIWA team drop a New Zealand-made anaesthetic called Acquiesce into the water, which puts the fish to sleep so they can be monitored for science or moved for tank cleaning. Photo: © Richard Robinson

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Many of our fisheries are under pressure. At the same time people are eating more fish. Could farming iconic New Zealand species be the future? And what are the advantages of growing fish on land?

A new lease of life

Ocean Beach used to process lambs, a record of 20 000 in one day, but now it’s gullies and troughs run with seawater, not blood. Home to the New Zealand Abalone company and Manaaki Whitebait it’s become one the frontiers of New Zealand aquaculture – growing fish indoors.  

Pāua puzzles and whitebait mysteries

It’s not an easy task. Growing fish on land means taking responsibility for their needs throughout their life cycle. First you must identify those needs, account for them in an indoor setting, and make the whole process as efficient as possible so you can still turn a profit. It takes trial and error, and patience.

Listen as Kate Evan’s travels the length of the country to learn how a new group of farmers are figuring out the puzzles of how to farm fish on land.  

A hand extends from the left of the image, holding a small blue pāua shell in its palm while a second hand wields a pair of yellow calipers, measuring the length of the shell. In the background, hundreds of blue pāua shells cluster on a surface.

At Ocean Beach – the "Disney World of aquaculture" near Bluff – nearly a million young pāua cluster in dozens of tanks. Photo: © Richard Robinson

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Photo: NZ On Air

Voice of Tangaroa is a joint production between RNZ’s Our Changing World and New Zealand Geographic.

Reporting for this series is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air. You can learn more and read the articles for free at www.nzgeo.com/seas