Nelson Plant and Food Research Centre opens its Akersten St site to support 50 innovative seafood scientists
Nestled among fishing giants, the Nelson Plant and Food Research Centre has opened its doors with an aim to maintain Nelson's foothold as the seafood capital of New Zealand.
The picturesque setting of the new science establishment on Akersten St in Nelson Port provides an outlook over waters now home to 50 scientists who are thoroughly exploring below sea level.
The building is a modern glass and wood structure with laboratories designed for scientists to analyse and explore the effects of marine molecules on living cells, design better technologies for the fishing industry like nets.
As seafood demands expand across the globe, scientists in Nelson are searching for ways to better fishing practices and nurture our ocean environments.
Nelson plays no small part in New Zealand's $2 billion fishing industry and is looking to lead the way in better support the fourth largest fishing zone in the world.
Science Seafood Technologies general manager Helen Mussely said the new facility would allow for an expansion in research programmes and scientists across different research teams to come together and share expertise and experience.
She said the facilities offered a space where staff could work to understand fish genetics, explore the impacts of aquaculture practices and harvesting technologies on fish quality, and discover new ways of processing and regenerating seafood resources.
"One example is our new focus on fish genomics (a technology used to breed plants), that can be incorporated into our existing fish breeding programme and unlock some of the possibilities offered by our native seafood species."
The Seafood Production Science Group has come a long way from where it started 25 years ago, with three people in a Wakefield Quay office who would cart buckets of sea water across the road to keep their mussels alive, Mussely said.
"Today we are around 50 staff on the site working across a whole range of disciplines and a whole range of research areas. We plan to keep on delivering great science, to keep on innovating and discovering and to keep on looking for ways that our work can benefit the New Zealand seafood industry."
Seafood Production Science Group Leader Alistair Jerrett said the space would help scientists to gain data on our oceans that remained vastly unexplored.
He said the next decade would see a "revolution in our seafood science" and the facility would work towards ways to eliminate waste, maximise the value of what was extracted and advance trawler technologies to increase the quality and value of every species caught.
"In the hatchery ... we are looking at how we can actually make more seafood. Historically there were larger populations of fish. The productivity of our oceans was greater so how do we as Plant and Food support and increase productivity?" Jerrett said.
"What we're interested in is challenging assumptions."
Increased productivity of the oceans benefits economic growth, Jerrett says.
"We're trying to develop a playbook if you like of all of the species and make it available to a wide range of industry and users."
He said Nelson faced restoration and environmental issues but that was no different to the rest of New Zealand.
"The ocean is opaque, we don't really know what's going on. We have very little information about the fish ... How do you nurture and how do you actually restore the fishing populations? How do you actually support more fish, that is what we're finding out."
In 2014, the Maitai site next door to the Nelson Plant and Food Research Centre opened. It holds eight laboratories and a "finfish facility" with tanks totalling 325,000 litres.