Lessons from Aqua Nor: Moananui partners leverage global opportunities in aquaculture

With the global aquaculture industry rapidly evolving and looking for new technologies and investment opportunities, New Zealand is well positioned to capitalise on this growth.

In 2023 four New Zealand companies attended Aqua Nor, the world’s biggest aquaculture trade show, where 25,000 delegates take over a city the size of Hamilton. It was the culmination of their participation in a Global Innovation Launchpad for New Zealand Aquaculture, led by Hatch Innovation Services in partnership with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise – Te Taurapa Tūhono (NZTE).

We talk to one of the delegates, Plant & Food Research Business Manager, Mark Jarvis, about what he learnt from Aqua Nor. And we look at “where to from here” when it comes to the global potential for New Zealand’s aquaculture industry.

Every two years the Norwegian port city of Trondheim is taken over by all things aquaculture. This year 25,000 delegates, from 76 nations flooded the picturesque university city, located on Trondheim Fjord, an inlet of the Norwegian Sea, for the world’s biggest aquaculture trade fair.

All the major aquaculture nations are present, either as exhibitors, visitors, or in official delegations. The networking and discovering opportunities are immense but it is a complex maze of industry and its various connection points.

Aqua Nor pavillion

This was Mark Jarvis’ first time at Aqua Nor. After touring the pavilions and exhibitions, mingling, and meeting with some of the key players, he and colleague David Ashton came away with the impression that the industry was upbeat, affluent, and doing well.

“Globally aquaculture has been expanding consistently for decades, and Norway's a very rich country, so a lot of the companies operating there are very well financed. There was definitely a kind of buzz around new technologies and large scale investments in those technologies,” he says.

Plant & Food Research was keen to explore opportunities in the global aquaculture industry so the Global Innovation Launchpad seemed like the perfect vehicle, especially given NZTE and Hatch’s connections.

In particular, the research institute wanted to test interest in a new product they have developed - a lower cost approach to stereo imaging technology using a combination of machine learning algorithms and underwater cameras. It enables users to estimate fish weights with greater accuracy using photographs, which is vital information to improve efficiencies in the aquaculture industry.

“We wanted to see how our technology fitted in with what other people are already doing, and what the industry wants. There was some direct interest which we are following up but it also gave us a good insight into related technologies and provided us with information about how we should prioritise our work in relation to the opportunities that seem available,” says Mark.

Mark Jarvis, Plant & Food Research

With the assistance of Hatch and NZTE they made a whole number of connections, some of which were broader than initially planned. They could then approach people before the exhibition to arrange meetings and have discussions which was valuable. Mark also saw the value of being part of a New Zealand delegation and the opportunities that brought.

“NZTE had a very useful mixer function where they had brought in people from a variety of different industries we wouldn't have met by chance. I think all the New Zealand delegation were very positive. It was a great opportunity for us to make connections and get the big picture about where the industry's going.”

"Fish farming is becoming a very high technology industry, certainly at big scale in Europe. It's rapidly deploying the most advanced technologies, machine learning and automation on a significant scale. We're certainly already in the process of reviewing how we allocate resources to projects with a view to focusing on areas we think we can have the greatest impact,” says Mark.

For NZTE, developing the Innovation Launchpad sat well with their wider contribution to New Zealand’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan, which aims to grow the country’s agritech sector to NZ$8 billion in revenue by 2030.

The programme came about after a visit to New Zealand by Hatch Innovation’s Norwegian Director of Innovation Services Tanja Knabenschuh Hoel. She was invited to New Zealand by Aquaculture NZ and hosted by Moananui, the Nelson based blue economy cluster.

“We got Tanja out into factories and on boats, meeting people in the industry. We wanted to build confidence in the depth of expertise and aquaculture ecosystems across Te Tauihu and New Zealand. It was an opportunity to highlight the global relevance and scalability of New Zealand’s aquaculture expertise to the world,” says Moananui CE Jodie Kuntzsch.

Following the visit, Moananui supported NZTE in the programme development. “There was such a strong alignment with the Moananui concept, and it was really important we had industry support,” says NZTE’s Megan Huddleston, who guided the programme and cohort formation in her role as international partnerships manager for the Agritech ITP.

There was tremendous interest in the Launchpad. The selection process saw 121 companies take part in coaching and mentoring with five chosen to participate in the intensive programme. Of those, four attended Aqua Nor: Aqua Mould Systems (AMS), Foodcap International, Plant & Food Research, and AquaWatch (formerly RiverWatch).

The programme focused on supporting innovation in the global aquaculture space. The hope is the learnings, scale and experience gained by the New Zealand companies operating in more advanced aquaculture markets can be translated back to New Zealand’s growing industry.

Presently New Zealand contributes less than 1% of world aquaculture exports so there is enormous potential for New Zealand’s blue economy to grow. Being a small, isolated maritime nation is our super power, says Jodie Kuntzsch

“New Zealand is already a world-leading player in operations, engineering, hatcheries, farming science and technology. Because we aren’t burdened by massive production assets and singular focus, we can be curious, ingenious, adaptable and nimble, all of which will be increasingly needed by these big production players around the world. We are perfectly positioned with a lot to offer.”

Megan Huddleston says the feedback from delegates was resoundingly positive, and it was tremendous to see New Zealand represented on the world stage. Interest will now turn to whether New Zealand wants to have a larger presence at Aqua Nor in 2025.

“Moananui can help the industry see the opportunity for everyone if we come together. There’s a real opportunity to make the most of international partnerships. New Zealand does need to turn up a bit more, think bigger and look forward because there’s so much potential. Together we are so much more powerful,” says Megan.

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