Researcher probes deep secrets to boost fish stocks

Nelson Plant and Food senior scientist Maren Wellenreuther.
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Nelson Plant and Food senior scientist Maren Wellenreuther.

Maren Wellenreuther's face beams with enthusiasm when she talks about her research at Plant and Food's port office in Nelson.

The senior scientist who joined the research institute two years ago, she is focussed on developing new fish species for aquaculture.

In the past two years, she has developed a method to successfully breed New Zealand native fish species commercially. 

Her research focused on snapper, but she said her aim for the next five years was to adapt the method to other New Zealand native species.

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"We've bred cattle and such but I guess there was never really a need to breed fish because there was an abundance in the sea.

"That is now changing."

Wellenreuther said one of the highlights of the past year was receiving a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment grant of almost $5.5 million to research accelerated breeding for enhanced seafood production.

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Growing up in Germany, she said her father instilled a love for biology in her from a young age. 

"We would walk through the forest and he would point out and name trees and insects."

She decided to become a biologist when she was 15. "I never changed my mind and never regretted it."

She was studying for her masters degree in reef fish ecology in Australia she first came to New Zealand on a Christmas break in 1999. 

"A friend of mine was studying at Auckland University. I arrived at the airport and we went straight to the Christmas party [at the university] and I met my husband.

"My first day in New Zealand tied me to New Zealand for the rest of my life."

Wellenreuther finished her PhD on the evolutionary ecology of triplefin fish, New Zealand's most abundant reef fish, at Auckland University. 

"It was a fun PhD and I got to see so much of the country under water as well as on land.

"I got to dive all around New Zealand, from the Three Kings [islands] to the Fiordland, Stewart Island. We would] look at them, actually record where they are, just to understand the factors that has led to their diversity."

She said she had travelled many countries around the world but loved Nelson.

"[It's] superb, being here with little children, being able to cycle to work, which I love. Nelson is big on science, you can do great science and have a great lifestyle.

"That ticks a lot of boxes."​

 - Stuff

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