Research fit for a king (salmon)
Scientists from around the world were in Nelson to improve the profitability and production efficiency of king salmon.
A meeting of a recently-established technical advisory group in Nelson welcomed scientists from New Zealand as well as the USA, Australia and Scotland who came to work with domestic experts and salmon industry leaders on a Cawthron Institute-led research programme.
Cawthron senior aquaculture scientist Dr Jane Symonds leads the salmon feed efficiency programme and is an expert in the application of genetics and selective breeding technologies to enhance commercial production.
Symonds said the meeting was about ensuring industry players could see what science was involved in this process.
It also allowed international visitors some perspective into the local salmon industry.
"We wanted to tap into expertise outside of New Zealand and get NZ scientists involved and make sure everyone had a good idea of what the project was about and share ideas - it actually went really well.
"Talking to some of the researchers from the University of Tasmania, they were quite keen to develop something in parallel because they could see the merits in what we were doing - it was a really good endorsement of what we're planning to do."
The three-day schedule included visits to NZ King Salmon's new Waitata farm in the Marlborough Sounds, a foodstock facility in Takaka and a tour of the Cawthron Aquaculture Park at Glenduan, north of Nelson.
The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment has funded the $12.85 million research programme.
Industry players were providing vital input through dialogue with the research team as well as data, staff and infrastructure and fish for sampling.
Symonds said there had been a desire to start up a technical advisory group "to make sure we were aware of salmon farming industry needs and priorities and making sure industry was included in the science side of the project".
She said while Atlantic salmon had been heavily researched, much less was known about the king salmon species farmed in New Zealand.
"It's important we identify and fill knowledge gaps, because by understanding processes that influence king salmon's feed conversion, industry can improve their performance, profitability, and sustainability,"
The research followed three broad themes; the indicators of healthy king salmon, on farm performance and environmental interactions, and improving performance, efficiency and the breeding.
"They do well right now but it's continual improvement if you like, we're looking at performance and efficiency and looking at health - for example what you feed the salmon and how well they convert that into the fillets that we buy."
An important part of last week's meeting included planning for the programme's next phase of experimental trials which will start next year in a purpose built, multi-million dollar facility at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park.
In these trials individual fish will be tagged, tracked and measured, allowing scientists to gain "unparalleled insight" into how each fish responds to changes in its environment and feed.
"The aims aren't complicated but it's got on-farm components and experiments we want to do when we get our new facility - just trying to ease out all the different components about what makes a king salmon perform well - that takes a lot of different areas of expertise," Symonds said.
The availability of new tools like sequencing allowed them to be innovative in the application of current research.
This included studying bacterial communities in the gut as way of understanding nutrient uptake, as well as family based-breeding programmes that used genomics technology already implemented in livestock and atlantic salmon research.
"You can get tens of thousands of DNA markers and you can look at how that influences different performance traits" Symonds said.
The next technical advisory meeting was planned for 2019 when the group will review their research progress.