Building a ground-breaking regenerative aquafarm for native Giant Kōkopu in Kawatiri, Westport.
New Zealand Whitebait Ltd is a regenerative aquaculture business founded in 2020. The enterprise plans to grow a new regenerative food system in Aotearoa New Zealand that supports local communities, works alongside iwi and hapū, is good for the wider public and better for nature.
The Kawatiri Aquafarm project will create more than 30 jobs over the next six months to set up the innovative land-based tank farm and build specialised fish tanks. Whitebait from the new aquafarm will be supplied throughout Aotearoa New Zealand year round, taking pressure off the supply of wild fish and giving chefs a new way to meet growing public demand for more sustainably sourced food.
Whitebait – or matamata – is an iconic food in New Zealand, a taonga for iwi and important culturally and economically, especially on the West Coast, but to date supplies have depended on fish from declining wild populations. The New Zealand Whitebait project is being developed using brood stock successfully reared in a smaller scale Nelson land-based tank farm. The Nelson farm has produced 8 million Giant Kōkopu eggs from 70 fish in the first half of 2020. It takes 12 days for eggs to become larvae and 12 weeks before the larvae weigh 0.3g each and are fritter-ready. The tank farm mimics the fresh-water and salt-water stages of the whitebait life-cycle.
Tank-farmed whitebait takes less feed to produce a 1kg of fish than salmon farmed using current methods. Unlike other fish or livestock, 100% of the protein is used in food. The land-based tank-farming used by New Zealand Whitebait is a closed, recirculated aquaculture system, with no impact on natural waterways.
New Zealand’s whitebait stocks are in decline from habitat degradation and unrestricted commercial wild harvest. Sustainable whitebait production is expected to offer some relief to the wild harvest and may support conservation efforts through sharing knowledge about species regeneration. In future, it may be possible to release farmed Giant Kōkopu to replenish populations for sustainable wild fishery.
The New Zealand Whitebait project will create over 30 jobs in the Buller Region over the next six months to set up the innovative fish tank farm and build the specialised fish tanks. Independent analysis estimates that the construction phase of the project will add $4.9m to the Buller District’s GDP over the 2.5 year period of the build, with a further $8m in the rest of New Zealand. The New Zealand whitebait fishery is currently worth NZD 20 million, but it is in serious decline and some of the fish species comprising this fishery are at risk.
The project is in line with the Government NZ Aquaculture Strategy 2019, which includes high-value land-based aquaculture, and has the support of Buller District Council, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae and Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō and the Provincial Development Unit.
New Zealand Whitebait was founded by Robert Hutton and Ben Smith. The enterprise combines Hutton’s technical expertise in tank farming whitebait with Smith’s financial sector and sustainable agricultural experience.
A Stakeholder Governance Group has been appointed to assist with the establishment of the New Zealand Whitebait aquafarm
The other initial shareholders in New Zealand Whitebait are David Cooper, an experienced trainer in fish husbandry, and Francis Day, a long-term supporter of the Nelson broodstock farm.
If you are interested in investing in New Zealand Whitebait please contact Ben Smith.
Ben Smith | Executive Director
Ben has a seven-year history in rural finance plus 16 years of direct farm ownership, which included aquaculture species into dairy effluent management. With 11 of the 15 years farming being impacted by major environmental events Ben and his dedicated farming family developed new feed management systems and energy waste centres in order to feed livestock and produce sustainable energy sources. Operating over the past three years within his own business of Circular Solutions Ltd, Ben has been directly involved in commissioning South East Asia's only commercial In Vitro Fermentation Laboratory and driving supply logistics around value-added primary products. Ben's passion for developing sustainable Circular Economic models has led to the development of Certified Carbon Trust processes that put the numbers behind food production and develop sustainable farming systems with a story from paddock/tank to plate.
As well as being Executive Director for NZ Whitebait, Ben currently mentors research graduates in Fresh Water Ecology, this puts the numbers behind the building of biological models that aid in improving land management systems and ultimately swimmable waters.
Robert is a qualified Engineer who has specialised in water reticulation systems most of his career. A West Coaster by birth, Robert is leading the development of the proposed commercial whitebait production facility.
Robert's career has involved a strong relationship between managing engineering companies and designing and building commercial land-based fish farms.
With 35 years of water reticulation engineering experience, including the last ten years fully devoted to aquaculture/aquaponic experience, Robert has proven to be one of the country's leading experts in aquaponics. He has developed a revolutionary new urban-fish-to-garden system that has already been rolled out into New Zealand schools as a fully integrated learning system.
Since 2014 Roberts' company, Aquaculture Services Ltd, has been directly involved with designing and building New Zealand's first whitebait pilot production facility plus an exciting Urban 'Fish to Garden' system in the Auckland region. He has set up his own whitebait farm at 'Gardens of the World' in Hope, Nelson, where he is also co-owner of New Zealand Land-Based Aquaculture Ltd.
STAKEHOLDER GOVERNANCE GROUP MEMBERS
John Selby – Independant Chair
John Selby was a PwC partner for 24 years providing audit, risk, strategy and acquisition services to public and private entities in Australasia and Japan. In the last 9 years since leaving PwC John has been involved in governance and is currently the independent Chair of Booster Investment Management, a company with over $3b funds under management, Chair of a property management company MDH and a director on the Booster Assurance, ServiceIQ , Wellington UniVentures and NZ Innovation Boards. His current Booster involvement in investing in unlisted companies and previous audit and acquisition experience means he is reasonably familiar with funding structures and mechanism.
Dean Phibbs was the Manager of Corporate and Commercial Services for the Buller District Council for over 14 years, responsible for all financial accounting, reporting and budgeting. He has also been instrumental in bringing capital investment to Westport and represents regional interests and local government small to medium enterprises (SME).
Dean is a qualified Chartered Accountant with local government executive, commercial and general governance experience as well as key regional knowledge and expertise.
Mark has over 37 years’ experience in the International Investment Banking, Wealth Management and Business Advisory and enjoys working with private investors. He has worked for a number of main street institutions in the London, Asian, Australian and New Zealand markets. Other experience includes the development and issuing of Public Offering Documents both in NZ and Australia and advising business on preparation for sale, equity and debt raising, with focus being on privately held companies.
Ray was an officer and fighter pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and Royal Air Force (RAF) before embarking on a business career in NZ. After sales and marketing roles in the NZ Post Group, Ray joined the Port of Wellington where he held three GM roles. He was also a director and responsible GM of a subsidiary of the port that managed transport and logistics for major importers and exporters throughout central NZ.
Ray now has his own consultancy specializing in logistics, transport and infrastructure and serves central government, local government, economic development agencies and large corporates. Ray has an MBA from Warwick Business School (UK) and completed his dissertation in supply chain for the forestry sector in NZ.