Aquaculture and Seafood Trail NZ Aquaculture


NZ Aquaculture


Aquaculture is New Zealand’s fastest growing seafood sector, making up approximately 20% of the total fisheries production in value, and 15% of New Zealand's seafood exports by revenue.

New Zealand aquaculture is currently built around three species – Greenshell™ mussels (which is a trademarked name of farmed green-lipped mussels), King Salmon, and Pacific oysters - with a number of new species currently being investigated for their commercial potential.

Greenshell™ Mussels form the backbone of New Zealand’s aquaculture industry - not only in terms of volume of production, but also because the Greenshell™ Mussels are unique in the world. Similarly with King Salmon, New Zealand has a market advantage as this product is only farmed in three countries – and New Zealand has by far the largest production.

New Zealand currently produces just over 100,000 tonnes of aquaculture produce, worth approximately $380 million. With significant growth potential, the NZ aquaculture sector is well on track to be worth in excess of $1 billion to the economy by 2025.

New Zealanders enjoy aquaculture product, which creates a significant domestic market for mussels, salmon and oysters. Aquaculture is also a major export industry, with approximately 66% of New Zealand's aquaculture production exported, and distributed to 77 countries worldwide.
[ Aquaculture New Zealand Factsheet ]


NZ Aquaculture Exports
Original Source: NZMFA 2007 – Graph courtesy Rabobank / graphic redesign by

Mussels (green) form the overwhelming bulk of New Zealand's aquaculture production by tonnage, with salmon (grey) and oysters( black) small in volume by comparison. The same pattern exists for export returns, although all three species also have significant domestic returns.



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NZ Greenshell™ Mussels
Photo: Aquaculture NZ

Mussels are high in iron
and Omega3 fatty acids


New Zealand is the only producer of Greenshell™ mussels – which were worth $202.5 million in exports in the 2009 year (Aquaculture NZ Farm Facts June 2010). In addition, there is a strong domestic market for Greenshell™ mussels, estimated to be worth around $35 million per year.. This means that Greenshell™ mussels continue to be New Zealand’s biggest aquaculture business – as well as the largest (by value) single species of seafood exported today.

Most Greenshell™ Mussels are produced in Marlborough and Tasman Bay, with about 20% of production occurring in Coromandel.

NZ Greenshell™ Mussels
NZ Greenshell™ Mussels are easily recognised by their vibrant green and gold shell colouring.

New Zealand’s main rival is the Blue Mussel, which is predominantly grown overseas. But New Zealand’s Greenshell™ Mussels are unique due to their vibrant green and gold shell colouring, and their high meat-to-shell ratio.

While Blue Mussels from other parts of the world have an average meat-to-shell ratio of 25%, the New Zealand Greenshell mussel has a meat-to-shell ratio of 55%. Greenshell™ Mussels are valued by chefs and consumers for their succulent tender meat, and their attractive appearance on a plate. Indeed the shell increases the New Zealand mussel’s marketability, due to its distinctive appearance in food retail.

Mussels are also high in health benefits. They are low in fat, calories and cholesterol – and high in protein, iron and essential Omega3 fatty acids.

A 100 gram serving of New Zealand Greenshell™ Mussels is calculated to provide one quarter of an adult's daily protein needs. Furthermore mussels offer a good source of haem iron (which is the most easily absorbed form of iron) containing over three times the haem iron of a rump steak on a per gram basis. Greenshell™ mussel powder extract is also used in neutraceutical products to assist with joint mobility and health.


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Export markets


Mussel exports are growing with New Zealand exporting $NZ202.5 million worth of Greenshell™ Mussels to the global market in 2009. The product was mainly exported in quick frozen, half-shell presentation, as this gives both convenience and versatility in cooking the mussel. A smaller proportion (about 15%) were exported in a frozen meat format. The largest market for New Zealand Greenshell™ Mussels is the United States.



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Twenty years ago, aquaculture earned about $1 million a year and employed 400 people.

Today it earns $380 million a year (more than $1 million a day) - and employs more than 3000 people.

Aquaculture is unique, as it is often located in areas not attractive to other industries.
This means it has the potential to rejuvenate a region’s economy.

Currently occupies only 0.2% of coastal space in NZ to produce $380 million – so growth potentials are significant.

Pacific Oysters


When it comes to Pacific oysters, New Zealand is a small producer in a large global industry.Yet our clear coastal waters impart a clean and full-bodied texture, which makes our Pacific oysters sought after both for domestic consumption and for export markets.

Pacific oysters exports in 2009 totalled $NZ16.2 million – with the largest market in Australia, and the bulk of the product being exported in frozen halfshell format. In addition, there were an estimated $9 million in domestic sales.

It is worth noting that the Bluff Oyster or Flat Oyster, which is a traditional New Zealand delicacy, is not farmed commercially by aquaculture methods – and so does not feature in these statistics.

Pacific oysters are predominantly farmed within the Northland/Auckland and Coromandel regions, and are primarily grown on intertidal racks in harbours or estuaries.

For nutritional value it is hard to beat NZ Pacific oysters, as they are low in calories and high in protein and provide a rich source of minerals, vitamins and amino acids for a healthy lifestyle.


NZ Pacific oysters
Photo courtesy: AQNZ

With succulent plump meat nestled in a deeply cupped shell, NZ Pacific oysters are a popular delicacy. Oysters are a great source of zinc, with a 100g serving supplying 100% of an adult’s daily zinc requirements.

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Waikato’s importance to aquaculture development


The Waikato Region is second only to the Marlborough Sounds in the importance of aquaculture development – both in terms of the number of farms, and total area farmed.

The primary site for aquaculture is the Firth of Thames, which has sheltered waters, ease of access, a favourable climate, good water quality and the availability of nutrients.

The Firth of Thames (and other areas of the Hauraki Gulf) once supported large areas of green-lipped mussel beds, which formed an important habitat in the Firth. These beds were heavily fished using dredges in the 1920-1960s, leaving only small, isolated patches of mussels.

Locals turned to farming mussels on long-lines in the 1980s – which has now grown into a successful industry worth almost $50 million.


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Mussels : Coromandel production


In the 2010/11 year, the Coromandel region grew about 30,000 tonnes of mussels, which represents about 21% of New Zealand’s total.

Based on estimates from the 2007 year, where the overall income from mussels is approx $220 million, the Coromandel’s production equates to approx $46 million. Today this figure is likely to be even higher.

Coromandel mussel production




Coromandel Mussel Production

The Coromandel is the second largest producer of mussels after Marlborough – which means that the earnings and job creation are important to the Coromandel region.

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mussel farm

This Waikato Regional Council photo shows what a mussel farm looks like under the water.

The black buoys on the surface suspend ropes onto which the mussel clusters can grow in the marine environment.


Mussel production in the Firth

The majority of the marine farms are located around the coastline of the Coromandel Peninsula with the main concentration in the vicinity of Coromandel and Manaia Harbours, and Wilson Bay. Apart from mussel farming, there are also other forms of aquaculture, such as oyster farming (about 70ha). Most of the mussel production is grown in Wilson’s Bay, which has capacity for 1200 ha of mussel production – with about half of this (Area B) still to come into production.


click on map to zoom in / Source: Waikato Regional Council

This map shows the location of Coromandel marine farms within existing 1500ha AMA.
The main area is Wilson’s Bay (1200ha in green), with the remaining mussel and oyster farms scattered around the coastline (red).

The Wilson’s Bay area is the primary production area for Greenshell™ Mussels within the Coromandel.

mussel production area at Wilson’s Bay
click on photo to zoom in

This is the view from the primary mussel production area at Wilson’s Bay looking back towards the Coromandel coast road.


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Mussel spat
click on photo to zoom in

Mussel spat are grown on ropes suspended in the water, so that they grow from seed spat to mature mussels. These are the intermediate stage grown on in the more sheltered harbour waters of the spat farming area. From here, the juvenile mussels are transported out to the main ocean-based farms for growth to maturity.


Mussel Spat


Most farmed mussels are collected from the wild as tiny juveniles – usually smaller than an apple pip – commonly known as ‘spat’. These juvenile mussels are mainly collected from the surf zone of Ninety Mile Beach in Northland, where they can be found in their millions attached to drifting seaweed and other flotsam.

The seaweed and spat are stuffed into a cotton mesh stocking or ‘mussock’ along with a culture rope, which is then hung out on a mussel farm. As the seaweed and mussock rot away in the seawater, the spat attach themselves to the culture rope.

Wild mussel spat are also collected directly from the sea by placing hairy ‘Christmas tree’ ropes in the water. These act like filamentous seaweeds, attracting mussel larvae to settle on them in high numbers.



Mussel spat
Photo: NIWA

Mussel spat similar to those grown at Area B in Wilson’s Bay.


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Harvesting the mussels


Mussel Harvest


When the mussels have reached maturity (ranging from 18 months to 2 years), they are harvested by specially-designed barges. This photo shows the winches lifting the ropes which float in the water on the buoys, and then pulling the mussel line with mature mussels into the special chute which separates the mussels from the rope and puts them into bags – which are later taken back to the wharf for distribution.

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Oyster farming

Coromandel also has significant oyster farming operations, generating 19% of NZ’s production which boasts total sales of $NZ25 million. There are a number of oyster farms in the Coromandel – some of which also earn money from tourism and the passing food-lovers desire for authentic home-grown aquaculture treats. In addition, Coromandel is a base for the finishing and processing of oysters brought in from other regions.


The Coromandel Oyster Company

The Coromandel Oyster Company, which is situated on the south side of Coromandel township serves freshly harvested and shucked oysters. The harbourside shop also sells smoked oysters and mussels, prawns, shrimps, marinated fish roe – as well as the ever-popular mussel chowder & oyster bisque.

oyster processing facilities

The oyster processing facilities are adjacent to the store, and are part of the public attraction to see working plant in action.


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Harvesting and processing

The mussel industry is continually investing in new equipment such as purpose-built vessels, and mussel infrastructure such as lines, buoys and spat.


harvest vessel
The industry has been investing in new vessels to prepare for the increase in production from the Wilson’s Bay area.

With the potential increase in production coming from the Wilson Bay area, industry players have recently been investing in new mussel barges, which can cost in the order of $2-3 million.

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Factory processing facilities

At present, the main processing facility for aquaculture on the Coromandel is the OPC factory situated in Whitianga. This comprises two operations:


OP Columbia (OPC)

which specialises in Greenshell™ Mussels.

Established in 1980, the company processes and markets shellfish, grown predominantly on its own farms around the Coromandel.

OP Columbia (OPC) Whitianga
click on photo to zoom in / photo: Dreamland Design

The OPC factory at the entrance to Whitianga is a major employer in the town, and processes mussel gathered from around the Coromandel – as most mussel farms are situated in the more sheltered waters of the Firth of Thames, rather than on the Whitianga coast


Some of the mussels produced in the waters off the Coromandel are also processed at factories in Auckland or Tauranga.



The other significant processing facility for aquaculture on the Coromandel is Pacific Marine Farms (a subsidiary of Aotearoa Fisheries) oyster processing (and farming) facility at Coromandel. The company farms and finishes oysters that are both local and imported from other regions. It processes these at its Coromandel factory for local and export markets, and it is a significant employer in Coromandel.



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Iwi involvement in aquaculture


Maori play a very important role in the ongoing development of aquaculture in the Waikato region. In the Coromandel, iwi ownership of the aquaculture resource (including aquaculture space allocation, boats, processing plants and ownership of shore-based land on which aquaculture facilities are built) is estimated at between 40-45%.

This means that iwi have a significant role in aquaculture, and will be increasingly important joint-venture partners in any future development of the aquaculture industry.

The iwi of Hauraki, which consists of 12 different tribes, covers an area from Tauranga through to past Auckland.

For more details about iwi investment in aquaculture, go to the Government’s aquaculture website:


iwi of Hauraki are
Map: Hauraki Maori Trust Board

This iwi of Hauraki are represented within the dark green area shown on this map.


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