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SPATnz cutting edge technology helps New Zealand grow best mussels in the world

MPI partner with Sanford to produce innovations for NZ’s mussel aquaculture industry


Greenshell mussels (Perna canaliculus) are unique to New Zealand. Until now, New Zealand’s mussel growers have relied on catching wild spat (baby mussels) around our coastline.  Shellfish Production and Technology NZ Ltd. (SPATnz), a Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme, is pioneering natural, selective breeding of Greenshell mussels so our growers have the spat they need to grow the best mussels in the world.

SPATnz is a collaboration between industry (Sanford) and the Ministry for Primary Industries, each of whom has committed equal funding of $13 million to produce innovations to advance New Zealand’s mussel aquaculture industry (currently worth around $300m a year) and deliver benefits for the New Zealand economy.

In their state of the art mussel hatchery in Nelson, the SPATnz team are using cutting edge technology for producing Greenshell mussel spat. Seen as one of the most important developments for the industry since mussel farming began, it means mussel farmers can know what they’re getting and when they’re getting it. Says Ben Dalton, Deputy Director-General, Ministry for Primary Industries, “By 2026 the projections are that it will be worth around $80 million and if the entire industry adopts the technology then it could be up to $200 million.”

Selective mussel breeding key to mussel farmers future success


SPATnz Programme Manager Rodney Roberts says selective mussel breeding has changed the odds for mussel farmers. “In nature the vast majority of the eggs that are spawned and the larvae that are created don’t survive. It’s far less than one in a million. One female mussel spawns 20 to 30 to 40 million eggs every time she spawns and if she’s lucky one of those will survive to adulthood. It’s this numbers game that makes producing baby mussels in a hatchery such a tricky business. Our job is to take control of the reproduction of the species and once we do, then we can choose the very best that nature has to offer and we can breed from that.”

SPATnz (including a new hatchery and lab facility near Nelson) takes an element of chance out of mussel farming - which previously was very much dependent on mother nature.

Greenshell mussels can now be selectively bred like livestock or crops to give mussel farmers the very best nature has to offer on their mussel farms.

Benchmarks of our mussels farming innovation success


Streamlining the process 


While only three years into the seven-year PGP programme the first batches of mussel spat from the hatchery have already been dispatched to New Zealand mussel farms. Survival rates of spawned mussel eggs are dramatically higher in the hatchery than in the wild. Use of high-performing hatchery mussels is expected to reduce growing times and increase meat yields, amongst other benefits.


Adding value to the mussel farming industry

SPATnz’s world first dedicated Greenshell mussel hatchery is a state of the art facility that houses cutting edge technology. This is a result of science and industry working together to ultimately increase the value of New Zealand’s Greenshell mussel industry.


Fantastic investment


Initial financial benefits are expected to be around $80m per year by 2026 or up to almost $200m per year if the technology is adopted throughout the whole industry in New Zealand. “Greenshell mussels have among the best sustainability credentials of any seafood. It’s great to be supporting the next phase of development for an iconic Kiwi product,” Roberts said.

Next steps see mussel farming supporting New Zealand’s Aquaculture Industry reach its goals 


Aquaculture NZ wants its industry to be worth a billion dollars a year to the New Zealand economy and says with the opening of the SPATnz hatchery that goal just got a little easier to reach. 

SPATnz plans to continue to develop and refine this technology to advance the aquaculture industry. When the programme reaches the end of its second stage, SPATnz expects to have developed hatchery methods capable of producing spat for around 30 thousand tonnes a year equivalent of adult mussels – about a third of present day industry.

“By 2026 the projections are that it will be worth around $80 million and if the entire industry adopts the technology then it could be up to $200 million.”
Ben Dalton
Deputy Director-General, Ministry for Primary Industries
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