Aquaculture industry – supporting the development of a national workforce strategy

Aquaculture really matters to Te Tauihu (Nelson Tasman and Marlborough). The Te Tauihu Intergenerational Strategy (TTIS) acknowledges this sector as a significant contributor to our wider Oceans Economy:

"Currently we rely heavily on the food and fibres sector (aquaculture, horticulture, viticulture and forestry), and manufacturing (high value engineering and design)… As businesses, Iwi, communities and local and central government organisations, it’s time to collaborate better in Te Tauihu and as sectors across Aotearoa."

Marlborough grows 56% of New Zealand’s salmon and 65% of New Zealand’s Greenshell mussels, while Tasman and Golden Bay have mussel farming zones under development (presently 5% of New Zealand’s production). Nelson Tasman is home to much of the management and processing of aquaculture. Our region also supports much of the science, research, technology, and product development associated with the aquaculture industry, as well as a significant amount of aquaculture-related vocational education and training.

Science providers with a regional presence include the Cawthron Institute, Plant and Food Research, and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). The Nelson Tasman region is the base for Aquaculture NZ (AQNZ), the national industry body; national offices of larger businesses and their processing plants; and the operational arm of the central government agency that supports aquaculture, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) offers aquaculture certificate and tertiary courses, including some unique opportunities to gain practical experience with local businesses. NMIT also provides targeted training for those already employed in the industry.

Cawthron Institute website(external link)

Plant and Food Research website(external link)

About our aquaculture workforce

Nationally, the aquaculture industry currently employs over 3,000 people in regional communities around New Zealand, and Māori make up 23% of the workforce. In June 2021 the industry estimated they had an 18% shortfall of workers with approximately 550 vacancies, predominantly in processing roles. Currently these critical processing roles are mainly entry level, manual, and hard to fill. While automation is a desired long-term solution, in the interim the industry is actively seeking to attract New Zealand workers by offering higher wages and better conditions. It is also working with Immigration NZ to access migrant labour to address the immediate shortfall.

To understand the future workforce required, both regionally and nationally, the Nelson Tasman RSLG supported AQNZ to run an aquaculture sector and government agencies working group throughout 2021. This group included main industry employers, industry bodies, and government agencies, and produced the National Aquaculture Workforce Strategy 2021.

Opportunities and challenges

Aquaculture in Nelson Tasman has potential for huge growth. The Government’s national aquaculture strategy has a goal of $3 billion in annual sales by 2035, while growing sustainably and using innovation to add value. One of the strategy’s four measures for success is increasing regional jobs and incomes. Te Tauihu iwi own and manage aquaculture assets as iwi organisations and Māori businesses, as well as having values and aspirations over the shared marine space occupied by marine aquaculture activities.

The Government’s national aquaculture strategy [PDF 2.9MB](external link)

The industry is clear that critical workforce shortages, both current and future, are hindering productivity and growth across Te Tauihu. These have recently been most pronounced in land-based processing facilities, which in March 2022 were short an estimated 400 workers – 20% of their full staff. Factories could not run night shifts, and day shifts ran at 60-80% capacity.

Regionally, future aquaculture workforce estimates for growth in the next decade across the Te Tauihu rohe are likely to need this extra staffing:

  • Full development of the mussel farming and processing in Tasman/Golden Bay (Port Tarakohe expansion): +80 vessel-based staff and +270 factory/land-based staff.
  • Open ocean salmon farming in Marlborough, with jobs also likely in Nelson: +300 jobs per 10,000 T salmon farm (assumes consenting is successful).
  • 1 new mussel hatchery: +20 jobs.
  • additional capacity for mussel processing: +460 jobs (assumes labour shortages are resolved).

Education and training in aquaculture warrant a greater strategic focus, collaboration, and development of resources to train enough skilled workers to meet current and future demands. The Primary ITO is updating Level 3 and Level 4 Certificates in Aquaculture with strands in hatchery, finfish, shellfish, and diving, and NMIT is a main provider of training in aquaculture. Certificates are also available in seafood processing, rigging, mechanical courses, and skipper’s tickets. Aquaculture companies praised recent leadership training funded by MPI. Short courses like this attract companies because they provide efficient professional development for staff.

National and regional initiatives are aiming to support and develop the industry. The national aquaculture working group has built on the National Aquaculture Workforce Strategy developed in 2021, to create a National Aquaculture Workforce Action Plan. This plan will deliver on the strategy and develop the aquaculture workforce, focusing on seven key areas of action:

  1. Career pathways
  2. Perceptions of the industry
  3. Projections of the future
  4. Pastoral support
  5. Training and education
  6. The immediate shortfall in workers
  7. Automation

The Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency (NRDA) has developed a background paper on the Ocean Economy (aquaculture, seafood, and deep-sea fishing), and is working with those industries. Marlborough and Nelson’s economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, and councils jointly commissioned a report that confirmed aquaculture is a key industry for Te Tauihu.

Regional actions we will take in Nelson Tasman

The RSLG will continue working with AQNZ and industry, business, and central government representatives to advance priority actions in the national aquaculture workforce strategy developed during 2021/22.

We will work with AQNZ to ensure an implementation plan is developed and delivered, working at 2 levels:

  1. Nationally – The RSLG will continue participating in the sector/industry/government working group led by AQNZ. The group will identify specific actions, plan their implementation, and start to deliver them as part of the National Aquaculture Workforce Action Plan.
  2. Regionally – In collaboration with Marlborough RSLG and Muka Tangata (People Food and Fibre WDC), we will continue to support the industry to be innovative in attracting, training, and retaining workers. There is scope for skills to be transferable across the primary sector, to have shared workforces and resources, and to connect to the TTIS and their ngā mahi matua (actions) for Pūtea (Economy) – Oceans Economy Strategy.

In 2022/23 the Nelson Tasman RSLG will focus on regional actions to support the following two workstreams, identified in the National Aquaculture Workforce Strategy:

Projections – work to forecast the scale and capability of the future aquaculture workforce to 2035. The RSLG will support this by:

  • supporting the Primary Sector Forecasting, led by MPI, which will include identifying the critical job needs for achieving the goal of $3 billion in annual sales by 2035, in a way that follows a sustainable growth pathway and uses innovation to add value
  • working with the wider science and manufacturing sectors to identify roles and workforce required to improve product development and processing, that will deliver increased productivity
  • working with MPI and the aquaculture industry during 2022/23 to gather better data to identify regional and local aquaculture workforce needs (e.g., it is projected that Golden Bay will require a significant increase in mussel-farming workforce, and possibly related onshore processing).

Pathways and promotion – work to map existing roles and career pathways; the skills, training, and qualifications for those roles; and identify opportunities to promote them. The RSLG will support this by:

  • continuing to work as part of the sector/industry/government working group led by AQNZ.

We will look to work with Muka Tangata (People Food and Fibre WDC) and NMIT / Te Pukenga, as well as AQNZ, to:

  • deliver updated regional qualifications for Level 3 and Level 4 Certificates in Aquaculture with strands in Hatchery, Finfish, Shellfish and Diving
  • deliver the seafood processing, rigging, mechanical courses, and skipper’s tickets certificates in ways that allow more people to participate
  • develop and deliver new training to support company and industry professional development and new skills
  • improve the secondary school-industry interface, to help the aquaculture sector be more targeted, co-ordinated, and effective when engaging with schools, students, and teachers. This includes improving the way the sector shares research and knowledge with schools and supports regional careers events.

We will also:

  • support national collaboration and co-ordination with other RSLGs that have regional aquaculture workforces, facilitating this in collaboration with Marlborough RSLG
  • support NRDA in their work leading the development of a Te Tauihu Oceans Economy Strategy – noting that the Oceans Economy includes ‘inshore and open ocean aquaculture, as well as opportunities to create value from the sustainable harvesting of our ocean’s resources’
  • support pan-Food and Fibre initiatives across the primary sector that help build the region’s collective capacity, skills, and opportunities, arising from our natural advantages and existing industry strengths.

Our recommendations for national consideration

We recommend the TEC supports:

  • NZQA’s pending approval of the updated qualifications for Level 3 and Level 4 Certificates in Aquaculture with strands in Hatchery, Finfish, Shellfish and Diving
  • NMIT/Te Pukenga to deliver these updated qualifications, along with the seafood processing, rigging, mechanical courses, and skipper’s tickets certificates in ways that enable more people to participate
  • establishing an aquaculture apprenticeship, led by NMIT if possible
  • delivering an aquaculture degree in a range of modes, including online
  • providing an additional E2E (education to employment) resource in Nelson Tasman (NRDA) specifically focused on the ocean economy.