Sealord's sale of its top of the south aquaculture assets should not be taken as a sign of any decline in the mussel industry, says Marine Farming Association executive officer Graeme Coates.
The Nelson-based seafood group announced yesterday that it was selling its 10 remaining mussel farms in Tasman and Golden Bays and closing its Tahunanui factory, and would be offering other jobs to all 50 affected staff.
It said the sale was to raise capital for its core fishing business, but it would continue with its North Island mussel interests.
Mr Coates said the overall picture for mussel farming in the top of the south remained positive, with strengthening prices, up around $100 a tonne in the past six months. Sealord was only a small player, having sold all its Marlborough Sounds farms to the industry leader Sanford two years ago.
"Sealord has been reconstructing its mussel industry now for about 10 years," he said. He thought the group might eventually quit mussels altogether and concentrate its aquaculture in Australia, where it raises trout, salmon and barramundi.
Mr Coates said the market for mussels was strong, with average prices going up.
"Sanford wouldn't have bought the Sealord farms if it didn't see a future in mussel farming, and the fact that they're confident of selling [the remaining 10] means there's confidence in the industry."
There are about 580 mussel farms in the Sounds, the biggest growing area. Mussels make up more than 80 per cent of New Zealand's aquaculture exports, worth $202 million out of the total $280m in 2009. The Sealord plant, to close in September, has annual production of 7000 tonnes, just under one-fifth of the national total.
Mr Coates said it was also a plus for aquaculture to be included in the new Ministry for Primary Industries, which has combined the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Fisheries Ministry and the Food Safety Authority under one umbrella and one minister, David Carter.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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