King Salmon seeks taxpayer funds to help solve its dead fish problem

New Zealand King Salmon is asking for more than $100,000 of taxpayer money to help figure out how to deal with thousands of tonnes of dead fish and fish faeces.
New Zealand King Salmon is asking for more than $100,000 of taxpayer money to help figure out how to deal with thousands of tonnes of dead fish and fish faeces.

The country's largest salmon-farming company says potential tax-payer funding to explore better use of its waste products is small fry compared to the environmental outcomes being floated.

In a draft submission to the Ministry for the Environment, New Zealand King Salmon is asking for $116,000 from the Waste Minimisation Fund to help figure out how to deal with thousands of tonnes of dead fish and fish faeces.

The company will put in around $175,000 of its own money over the next two years. The total cost of the trial would be close to $300,000.

In the document, NZKS identified that 1000 tonnes of "mortalities" - fish that have died in captivity or during transfer - go to Blenheim's Bluegums landfill each year.

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New Zealand King Salmon CEO Grant Rosewarne.
New Zealand King Salmon CEO Grant Rosewarne.

Prior to 2015, mortalities were sent for rendering into fish meal in the North Island by ferry and road transport. This disposal method ceased due to odour and spill issues and the variable quality of this material.

It also stated 2000 tonnes of fish faeces, which it was working to have removed from the seabed floor of the Marlborough Sounds, would also have to go to landfill.

However, NZKS chief executive Grant Rosewarne said the company was now looking for more sustainable options to address the waste issue in terms of environmental impact, cost and use of resources.

"We want to get value and a good outcome for the environment no matter what happens, burying fish that die sounds bad to people and the fish do turn into compost by themselves, but it would be the better environmental outcome if we turned it into compost, put it in a bag and sold it to people for their garden, so that's what we're trying to do."

The submission had identified warm water temperatures in the Marlborough Sounds as the main reason for the fish deaths. 

King salmon prefer temperatures between 12 and 17 degrees Celsius, but the farms have been warmer than usual since early December, and one farm has been consistently over 19C at a depth of 5 metres.

While NZKS would not abandon its sites in the top of the south, Rosewarne said there was "definitely a chance" of moving to cooler water spaces further south to alternate between summer and winter operations.

"The fish run a different biological model to land animals – they run a very high fertility, low survival model where about three per cent would survive in the wild – in the farming situation we've got that up to 80-90 per cent but unfortunately not every salmon makes it and it's worse in a warm year than in a cooler year."

"We're a 365-day sort of company but [if] we can harvest out of here in the cooler months and out of the south in the warmer months – that would be a very good outcome for us."

King Salmon would use the money for research and market testing over a two-year period.

The application has received written support from both the Marlborough Research Centre and Marlborough District Council.

In the six months ending December 2017, the company turned a net profit of $15.7m.

Rosewarne said he was "mystified" as to why his company's application was being singled-out for scrutiny.

"It's a $20 million farm for which we've applied for $116,000.

"There's a bit of an issue here that no matter what King Salmon does, there are elements out there that just see it in a negative light and I find it fascinating that ... King Salmon is the one they turn the spotlight onto," he said.

"We are applying for funds which are exactly there for this purpose.

"It would be a good use of the fund's money because instead of something going towards landfill and being wasted, it would be used by others sections of society like gardeners."