Comment: Globally, aquaculture is rapidly becoming a critical source of high-quality protein food and New Zealand needs to put some serious effort into catching up with the rest of the world, writes Tiwana Tibble from the Lake Rotoaira Forest Trust, who is pushing for a legislation change to remove the prohibition on trout farming in New Zealand.

As wild capture fishing resources become more depleted, aquaculture is growing rapidly around the world.

Aquaculture now equals wild capture fishing in the tonnage of fish consumed and will continue to grow at a very fast rate because the demand is there, and the growing world population needs food.

And yet, New Zealand is in slow motion as far as this new and exciting industry is concerned.

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We are being let down by our government agencies such as the Ministry of Primary Industries. They have become more urban focused than rural.

What the Lake Rotoaira Forest Trust is proposing is having trout and salmon farmed in tanks with operations using the latest in international technology, meaning high value protein products are produced using a very small footprint.

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The plan is for an aquaculture operation in the foothills of Mount Tongariro alongside a horticulture operation that uses the waste from the aquaculture operation as nutrient. The trust is looking at a range of potential crops.

We have a strong balance sheet and a plan to diversify our asset base, so we have the capacity to back up our plans.

Freshwater aquaculture opens opportunities to create jobs for our people and for all people within our rural district.

Tiwana Tibble writes that farming trout for commercial purposes should be permitted. Photo / Supplied
Tiwana Tibble writes that farming trout for commercial purposes should be permitted. Photo / Supplied

What is standing in our way is an antiquated piece of legislation that ensures New Zealand's trout resource is kept exclusively for a select small group of people.

New Zealand is the only country in the world that prevents trout farming alongside recreational angling.

In my opinion, the lobby group Fish & Game will oppose a lifting of the prohibition because it is that organisation's mandate to keep that resource as a monopoly just for the dwindling group of freshwater recreational anglers.

What Fish & Game has told us is their focus is on urban liberals who, in their eyes, have more political power than rural conservatives.

So, in my opinion, they are going after water quality as an issue because that appeals to urban liberals and their thinking is it will lead on to their being able to keep the trout resource to themselves.

I am not sure urban liberals will be that gullible.

The irony is if they did support the Fish & Game stance they would be throwing their political weight behind a group focused on killing animals for sport – hardly a fit with urban liberals.

Aerial view of Lake Rotoaira. Photo / Alan Gibson
Aerial view of Lake Rotoaira. Photo / Alan Gibson

If we ask urban dwellers whether they would rather have jobs in rural areas or trout fishermen having the exclusive right to fish, I think more would see the sense of having a balanced rural/urban economy and healthy communities where people can have jobs and live where they choose instead of being driven into cities.

I see opportunities for farmers to diversify into aquaculture. It is a farming operation like any other.

It is about having good quality stock, a clean environment for them to grow in, good quality feed, care for the health of that stock, and then presentation to markets in forms those markets want.

My focus is on creating asset diversification for the trust; however, it is my hope that a thriving collaborative industry develops similar in nature to how the wine industry works together.

Whatever tonnage New Zealand aquaculture can produce isn't going to make a dent in the international demand for fish products so there is an opportunity to create an industry that works together to carve niches in world markets.

Before anything can happen though we need the prohibition lifted and a government and government agencies that clearly get behind freshwater and marine aquaculture.