The Provincial Growth Fund is investing $6 million in a land-based aquaculture pilot to establish whether yellowtail kingfish can be commercially farmed in Northland.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced the loan for a prototype recirculating land-based aquaculture system that will be built and operated at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research's Northland Marine Research Centre at Bream Bay, to see if it is technically and economically feasible to grow 600 tonnes of kingfish to market size per annum.
"If proven, this system will produce high-value aquaculture products with global appeal that are produced sustainably and efficiently," Mr Jones said.
"World demand for sustainable products like kingfish is increasing, particularly for the high-end sushi market. Local restaurant suppliers have also shown a demand for kingfish if its supply and quality is consistent."
Niwa would be contributing $7.84 million to the $19.8m project, and the Northland Regional Council up to $6m for buildings and infrastructure.
Eighteen jobs would be created initially, and if the 600-tonne target was achieved, Mr Jones expected a full-scale 3000-tonne operation to be developed over in five years, generating estimated annual revenue of $45m.
"Successful expansion will give the private sector the opportunity to invest in larger reticulating aquaculture operations, not only in Northland but nationwide," he added.
"The knowledge gained through this initiative could contribute to the potential development of other land-based aquaculture, which would complement the rest of the industry."
Producing fish on land was sustainable, he said, with modern recirculating systems able to recycle the bulk of water used. And that was the type of innovation the PGF wanted to invest in.
"It is testing technology that could bring major sustainable economic growth not only to Northland, but the rest of the country," he said.
"Both central and local government support high-value land-based aquaculture as a key driver of sustainable economic growth. The project aligns with the government's aquaculture strategy and its goal of reaching $3 billion in annual aquaculture sales by 2035."
Northland Inc general manager for investment and infrastructure Vaughan Cooper said finfish had been identified as a key opportunity when the Northland Aquaculture Development Strategy was being developed, and it was "fantastic" to see that thinking coming to fruition.
The investment would aid in diversifying the current aquaculture market and create employment opportunities for the region.
The project, he said, built upon years of research and work that has been completed and supported by multiple stakeholders within Northland and other government agencies.
"Northland Inc has been an advocate of the project since its inception, providing support through the Northland Regional Council's Investment and Growth Reserve into early stage pieces of work, such as market demand and further investment advice, that have helped to shape the project," Mr Cooper said.
"The project is a prime example of how economic development projects within Northland that have been carefully developed over time have been given support across their final hurdles by the PGF and the regional council.
"It is quite a cliché but very true in this context — good things take time. It has been eight years, in fact, since the launch of the aquaculture strategy. Now it is time to turn all that hard work into something very tasty."