The Southland Regional Development Agency, Great South, has presented the Beyond 2025 Southland Regional Long Term Plan, in which two regional business opportunities stand out above the rest for their scale and potential: tourism and aquaculture.“We’ve got an aspirational goal to unlock the potential of Murihiku Southland aquaculture to be a $1 billion industry. We could be the number one region in the world utilising our natural advantages of a cooler climate and clear waters,” the plan states.
To achieve this, the plan maintains that, in addition to following the path defined from past efforts and lessons learned, they will need leadership and strategic planning“to ensure we have workers, infrastructure, supply chains and knowledge.”
Seeking to make a meaningful difference
Clean energy, aquaculture, land use, worker transition, community capacity building, business transition, and long-term planning – these are the guidelines the Southlanders want for the future of Murihiku Southland (Murihiku is the Maori name for this region in the south of New Zealand’s South Island). Their aim is to “make a meaningful difference” and to this end, they have set out possible scenarios relating to new and existing industries and the impact they have on key indicators such as employment, population, housing, and annual GDP.
Within these scenarios, the Beyond 2025 Southland Regional Long Term Plan’s 2054 projections claim that annual GDP would increase by over $190 million, nearly 3,000 new jobs would be created, the population in the area would increase by over 5,000 people, and households would increase by over 2,000. One of the points highlighted in the plan is precisely the importance of attracting and retaining people to the region, and the aquaculture industry could be an effective tool to achieve this.
“Aquaculture was modelled to reach $1 billion in sales revenue by 2035 and then continue to grow to $2.6 billion by 2054,” the plan states. To achieve these figures, the key assumptions of the plan have guaranteed the approval of major aquaculture projects, especially those focused on offshore salmon farming. The plan also assumes that the sector will be supported with increased processing facilities, inland smolt breeding and raring, and increased shellfish, seaweed, and white bait production. It also takes for granted that some financial assistance will be provided to support research and development, infrastructure improvement, and the necessary labor force training.
Key factors to make the full potential of the industry
According to the Beyond 2025 Southland Regional Long Term Plan, there are seven factors that will contribute to making the full potential of these companies and the industry a reality:
- Leadership. They propose the creation of an ‘Enduring Aquaculture Group’ to facilitate the development and implementation of a renewed aquaculture strategy and collaboration among the various stakeholders.
- Supply Chain. They propose the creation of the ‘Murihiku Southland Aquaculture Cluster’ to promote collaboration between industry and investors in a way that builds a strong regional supply chain tailored to the needs of the sector.
- Strategic Direction. The Murihiku Southland Aquaculture Strategy was undertaken in 2012. The plan considers that it should be updated according to the needs of the region and the New Zealand Government’s Aquaculture Strategy.
- Regulation. In place of the current multiple plans – none of them for offshore farming – a new single coordinated plan is proposed that encompasses all land, air, water, and coastal development activities in the region.
- Infrastructure. Both infrastructure and public services must support the growth of the sector in the region. This includes nurseries, hatcheries, processing plants and port facilities.
- Workforce. In the short term, access to skilled labor is a risk. The plan considers that early planning will ensure the local community is well-placed to benefit from job creation.
- Research and Development. They believe that continued investment in research and development is important for understanding technological advances, environmental adaptation, and growth and innovation, especially testing and understanding new Open Ocean Aquaculture technology.
Next steps to implement the plan
However, in order to achieve this“$1 billion industry,” the plan does not only speak in a theoretical and forward-looking manner but also identifies specific areas of interest around the existing aquaculture industry in the area, especially around three companies.
The first, Ocean Beach Aquaculture Hub, the only onshore aquaculture site in Murihiku Southland, has a fish farming license, but also has subsidiaries dedicated to mollusk and seaweed farming, and is studying the possibility of land-based salmon farming. The second, Ngāi Tahu Seafood Ltd, is still in the permitting process but the project envisages the construction and operation of an offshore salmon farm. The third, Sandford, owns 19% of Aotearoa New Zealand’s seafood share and has already made a strong commitment to salmon farming, as well as operating a processing plant and plans to invest in offshore aquaculture.
Finally, the Beyond 2025 Southland Regional Long Term Plan includes among its recommendations that business cases be developed to investigate the infrastructure and services needed to support aquaculture, be they finfish, shellfish, or seaweed farming projects.