Cawthron Institute's science platforms
Cawthron receives $5 million per year of Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF) funding for 2 science platforms – Seafood safety and Shellfish aquaculture.
MBIE funding details
In July 2018, Cawthron Institute received $5 million Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF) funding per year for 7 years to June 2024 for 2 science platforms – Seafood safety and Shellfish aquaculture.
About the research
Shellfish aquaculture (receiving $3 million of Cawthron’s annual SSIF funding) for enabling, growing, and securing New Zealand’s shellfish aquaculture sector.
Seafood safety (receiving $2 million of Cawthron’s annual SSIF funding) for managing pre- and post-harvest risks for seafood (market assurance and access).
Below is the public statement from our contract with Cawthron Institute.
Read the contract public statement from 2018
Seafood safety ($2 million per year)
The Seafood Safety Platform builds on over 15 years of R&D led by Cawthron in partnership with AgResearch, Plant and Food Research and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research. A close and trusted working partnership has developed between researchers, seafood industry and regulators.
This proactive Platform safeguards New Zealand’s $1.8 billion seafood export industry and reinforces its reputation for safe, premium quality food from well managed growing-waters.
This programme assures industry of continued access to preferred international markets through management of pre- and post-harvest risks.
As a result of this Platform, threats to seafood quality and safety from harmful algal blooms (HABs) will be managed ($1 million per annum) through implementation of research that seeks to understand biological and hydrodynamic factors that drive HAB events ($150,000k per annum), advance molecular technologies to enhance detection, species identification and enumeration ($162,000 per annum), determine impacts of climate change on seafood safety ($148,000 per annum) and improve marine toxin analysis, toxicity assessment to ensure appropriate monitoring and regulation ($544,000 per annum).
Threats to seafood quality and safety from pathogenic bacteria and viruses will be managed ($808,000 per annum) through research to understand bacterial contamination in growing waters ($200,000k per annum), minimize post-harvest bacterial contamination ($200,000 per annum), enhance virus monitoring and improve understanding of infectivity ($348,000 per annum) and develop new / modernized tools for microbial discrimination and source tracking ($62,000 per annum).
Emerging and future threats will be managed ($111,000 per annum) by proactively identifying and assessing the risks posed.
Platform scientists represent New Zealand on international advisory panels such as the EU Food Safety Authority and the Association of Analytical Chemists. This helps ensure no unnecessary regulations are introduced with the extra costs that would bring to New Zealand industry – positioning New Zealand as a rule maker rather than a rule taker.
The Seafood Safety Platform is a critical asset to New Zealand’s seafood sector and ensures our seafood is safe globally.
Shellfish aquaculture ($3 million per year)
Aquaculture is the world's fastest growing primary sector and is identified by NZ Government and industry as a significant growth opportunity for New Zealand. Aquaculture NZ has a goal of achieving revenue of $1 billion by 2025.
Cawthron Institute's Shellfish Aquaculture Platform will help industry push beyond this target, by:
Enabling the sustainable growth of NZ's existing shellfish aquaculture industry through innovation along the value chain including reliable seed supply, improved genetics, precision farming methods and new products ($1.8 million per annum)
Enabling new and emerging shellfish aquaculture industry including geoduck, flat oyster and a pipeline of future species opportunities ($480,000 per annum)
Securing shellfish aquaculture production with improved shellfish health management, disease risk mitigation and biofouling management ($720,000 per annum).
These goals will be achieved by continuing our ground-breaking work on domesticating our valuable shellfish species. This revolution will provide a reliable seed supply and enable selective breeding of these stocks, yielding higher productivity, quality, and market value. Where technical barriers hinder farming, we partner with industry to develop solutions. Securing these gains, new tools will manage the risk to aquaculture from threats, and position the sector to react more effectively to future problems.
The Shellfish Aquaculture Platform is the hub of NZ shellfish aquaculture research. Our facilities and expertise in shellfish early life history and breeding are unique. Our multidisciplinary team has the critical mass for a truly holistic approach. We work with crown research institutes (Plant & Food Research, AgResearch), NZ universities, and international teams from around the world.
Māori and our industry partners are critical as research collaborators and as end-users. The companies we work with represent the bulk of NZ’s shellfish aquaculture. Their facilities at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park will enable them to use this research to benefit NZ.
Recipients of SSIF funding are required to report yearly on the progress of their work programme. Below are the public updates from Cawthron’s annual reports.
Read the public update from the 2022/2023 annual report
Shellfish Aquaculture is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most sustainable growth opportunities. The Shellfish Aquaculture Platform, led by Nelson’s Cawthron Institute, works with shellfish producers, industry pioneers, and aspiring hapū/whānau/iwi to realise this opportunity. Our collaborators include 6 New Zealand universities and the Malaghan Institute. Our research targets sustainable growth through value chain innovation, including seed supply and improved genetics. We enable diversification by developing new and emerging shellfish aquaculture species. Our work secures shellfish production against future threats with improved shellfish health management, disease mitigation, and biofouling management.
2022/2023 highlights include:
Marine heatwaves are a priority concern for shellfish growers and we have examined the natural heat resilience available within Aotearoa’s shellfish species. We have developed practical tools to identify shellfish families that are resilient to warming oceans, and these have been tested and applied by mussel and oyster breeders.
Vaccinating the unvaccinatable:
Shellfish lack acquired immune systems normally required for vaccines to be effective. Our ground-breaking research is revealing approaches to ‘prime’ the innate immune system of shellfish. These ‘pseudovaccination’ approaches are game changers for aquaculture disease risk management.
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) and ecotoxicants:
The health risks of HABs to shellfish are now being recognised alongside implications for human consumers. We have applied emergent technologies to understand the role of organic contaminants and toxic metals for shellfish crop health, with fundamental implications for crop and catchment area management.
Securing mussel spat supply:
Ensuring enough healthy juvenile mussels are received and retained on-farm remains the greatest bottleneck for the aquaculture industry. We have worked to create the ‘Spat Research Collective’ to ensure coordinated, collaborative research. The Collective has already pulled together teams from Cawthron, NIWA, and University of Auckland to address key questions around spat transportation and nursery systems.
The Seafood Safety platform supports research that ensures the safety of seafood in Aotearoa New Zealand for all and enables continued access into high value international seafood markets. Working together with iwi/hapū Māori, the platform enables safe customary and recreational seafood harvest. Seafood safety risks from harmful algae, pathogenic bacteria and viruses are assessed both pre- and post-harvest and prioritised issues are addressed.
This proactive research initiative safeguards our $2.1 billion seafood industry, and reinforces its reputation for producing safe, high-quality seafood from a pure environment. The platform is led by the Cawthron Institute in Nelson in collaboration with researchers from AgResearch, Plant & Food Research, and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd. The platform is a partnership between scientists, the seafood industry, iwi/hapū Māori and regulatory stakeholders.
Platform highlights and achievements for 2022 to 2023 include:
- demonstrating the regulatory limit for PSP toxins to be fit-for-purpose
- working with kaitiaki to ensure kaimoana food safety using rapid testing kits
- preparing Aotearoa New Zealand for emerging harmful algal bloom events
- greater understanding of the genetic difference between clinical and environmental Vibrio parahaemolyticus isolates
- proposing adoption of new approaches to shellfish safety management through an Otago Harbour field-based study.
Read the public update from the 2021/2022 annual report
Shellfish Aquaculture is widely recognised as 1 of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most sustainable growth opportunities. The Shellfish Aquaculture platform, led by Nelson’s Cawthron Institute, works with major shellfish producers, industry pioneers, and aspiring hapū/whānau/iwi to realise this opportunity. Our diverse collaborations include 6 New Zealand universities and the Malaghan Institute. Our research targets sustainable growth through value chain innovation including reliable seed supply and improved genetics. We enable diversification through development of new and emerging shellfish aquaculture species. Our work secures shellfish production against future threats with improved shellfish health management, disease risk mitigation, and biofouling management.
2021/2022 highlights include:
- Application of tools previously developed by the platform is deepening our understanding of shellfish/environment interactions and likely climate change implications. Finding a genetic basis for variation in temperature tolerance among mussel families showed the potential to breed for thermal resilience, while identification of an associated heat shock protein provided a potential mechanism for such resilience and could become a useful selective breeding tool for climate change adaption.
- Bioassay breakthroughs have increased the sensitivity of testing for ecotoxicological contaminant effects, helping identify potential causes of juvenile mussel mortalities
- While we already know that microalgae associated with harmful algal blooms (HABs) affect human health, we used microalgae from Cawthron’s internationally recognised culture collection (partially supported via SSIF Infrastructure funding) to show that HAB-forming algae can also severely affect juvenile shellfish.
- Platform research to enable industry growth has enabled significant initiatives for 2 Māori-owned entities. Moana NZ opened Aotearoa’s first commercial Pacific oyster hatchery in Nelson, while Te Whānau ā Apanui received funding to enable the next stage of its Greenshell™ mussel hatchery. Platform capability and knowledge played a critical role in enabling these initiatives, helping secure Aotearoa New Zealand’s future supply of high-quality hatchery spat.
The Seafood Safety platform supports research that ensures the safety of Aotearoa New Zealand seafood and its continued access into, and premium status in, high value international seafood markets. Working together with Māori, the platform also enables safe customary and recreational seafood harvest. Pre- and post-harvest risks from harmful algae, pathogenic bacteria and viruses are assessed and any highlighted risks are addressed.
This proactive research initiative safeguards our $1.8 billion seafood industry, reinforces its reputation for safe, high-quality seafood from a pure environment and minimizes risks from non-tariff trade barriers. The programme is led by the Cawthron Institute in Nelson in collaboration with researchers from AgResearch, Plant & Food Research, and Environmental Scientific Research Ltd. It is a partnership between scientists, key seafood industries and regulatory stakeholders.
Platform highlights and achievements for 2021 to 2022 include:
- Updated risk assessment of Pseudo-nitzschia harmful algae in New Zealand coastal waters supporting reduced instances of unnecessary industry closures based on platform research plus several decades of comparative data between cell concentrations and domoic acid levels in shellfish.
- Establishment of a norovirus cell culture method to support future evaluation of process controls for seafood, and reduced risk to consumers.
- Identification of novel marine toxins including several new maitotoxin variants. This is a critical step to ascertain whether they contribute to ciguatera poisoning and are a threat to consumers of New Zealand seafood. These toxins are very difficult to structurally elucidate, requiring specialist skills, knowledge and international collaboration.
- Standardized methodology for toxicological evaluation of marine toxins to enable consistency across international laboratories. This will allow more robust regulatory limits to be set.
- Unravelling of Vibrio parahaemolyticus pathogenicity through comparative genomics to underpin effective monitoring programmes to mitigate the risk of illness.
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