Aquaculture's 'ultimate networking event' coming

More than 300 delegates from the marine farming industry will gather in Nelson this week for the New Zealand Aquaculture Conference, the industry's biggest annual event.

With a theme of sustainable growth, the focus would be on unlocking long-term growth while upholding the industry's commitment to environmentally sustainable practices, Aquaculture New Zealand chief executive Gary Hooper said.

"Aquaculture offers tremendous potential for New Zealand to sustainably produce world-class seafood, create regional jobs, and inject much-needed export earnings into local communities and the economy," he said.

The conference, which runs throughout Thursday and Friday at the Rutherford Hotel, will be opened by Primary Industries Minister David Carter.

Others on the long list of speakers include Scottish salmon farmer Nick Joy, of Loch Duart, Zespri chief executive Lain Jager, and Cawthron Institute chief executive Charles Eason. Ministry for Primary Industries deputy director-general Scott Gallacher will speak on "towards $1 billion, enabling and partnering the New Zealand aquaculture industry", and there will be a mayoral forum bringing together the Tasman, Marlborough, Opotiki and Coromandel mayors to discuss aquaculture with delegates.

Mr Hooper said the conference was "the ultimate networking event", bringing together marine farmers, processors, exporters, council and government officials, and representatives of the marketing, finance, research, transport, legal and education sectors.

It would also showcase "some of the fantastic culinary concepts that have made our products sought after in 79 countries".

This year's conference comes almost immediately after the end of a long Environmental Protection Authority board of inquiry hearing in Marlborough to consider Nelson-based New Zealand King Salmon's application to add nine salmon farms to the five it has in the Marlborough Sounds.

The application, which the company says it has spent $9 million on, has attracted widespread opposition from environmental and boating groups and Sounds residents, taking some of the gloss off salmon farming, the most productive and lucrative marine farming sector by area.

The Government has openly supported Aquaculture NZ's goal of $1 billion in sales by 2025, which would more than double the current figure. The industry is closely watching the King Salmon application, with the board's decision due over the next few months.

The timing is also awkward for Aquaculture NZ chairman Peter Vitasovich, who last month lost his share in the high-tech Tauranga business North Island Mussel Processors Ltd.

NIMPL was a joint venture between Sealord, Sanford and Greenshell New Zealand, a company owned by interests associated with Mr Vitasovich.

Greenshell NZ was blamed for leading NIMPL into receivership, and the receivers then sold the business to Sealord and Sanford, retaining all 20 fulltime and 200 casual jobs.

Mr Vitasovich, long a leading figure in North Island mussel farming, is due to give the chairman's welcome to the conference on Thursday morning.