Breadcrumbs

IVF for flounder holds the key to a fledgling aquaculture industry

29 June 2021

Brooke Ellis-Smith

Creating an IVF programme for New Zealand’s endemic Yellowbelly flounder was not how Brooke Ellis-Smith envisaged her career in aquaculture, but her research holds the key to a fledgling industry for New Zealand’s small coastal communities.

An artificial breeding programme for the flounder, known as Pātiki, was started by University of Waikato researchers this month. Forty-two Pātiki, netted from the Tauranga Harbour and housed in tanks at Toi Ohomai’s Aquaculture Facility, are its foundation breeding stock.

University of Waikato Master of Science student Brooke Ellis-Smith, has received a William Georgetti Scholarship to research induced reproduction in Pātiki, encouraging them to spawn in captivity using a natural hormone analogue.

Her research is part of an externally funded collaboration between University of Waikato, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and research partners from Matakana Island and Whakatōhea who are exploring the development of small whānau-owned aquaculture farms in coastal communities.

Pātiki do not easily breed in captivity, but researchers plan to use a gonadotropin releasing hormone analogue (GnRHa), to encourage the fish to spawn in tanks during their normal winter breeding season.

“I guess it’s a bit like IVF treatment in humans. The hormone we use encourages them to develop their eggs” says Brooke.

Brooke’s research is being overseen by Dr Simon Muncaster who is leading the wider interdisciplinary project as part of the Government’s Sustainable Seas, National Science Challenge, designed to develop New Zealand’s Blue Economy, including growing our aquaculture industry to a $3 billion industry by 2035.

“Aquaculture is an industry that is already dominated by corporate businesses because of the generally high set up costs. Rural coastal communities, who have the land, are generally excluded because of the high set-up costs,” says Brooke.

But farming Pātiki on land could be as simple as constructing shallow raceways to breed them in and they return a similar or higher value than whole Snapper per kilo, up to $26/kg, making it a lucrative business.

Pātiki are a taonga species, and numbers have been in decline in the Tauranga Harbour, says Brooke.

“If we’re successful we could farm them a lot more economically and sustainably and by turning it into a viable industry, we would also take the pressure off wild stocks and create local jobs. There would also be the potential to restock fish back into the wild. However this would need careful planning to preserve wild gene pools.”

Within the 42 brood-stock they have identified the male and female Pātiki and will treat both with the hormone. Once the hormone has worked, the female Pātiki develop a large bump on the top side indicating their eggs are ready.

“At that point we strip the eggs and assess them for quality and quantity, and we also do the same to the males, taking their milt to fertilise the eggs.”

It is careful work. The male’s milt cannot touch any seawater before being mixed with the eggs otherwise it activates and the whole process is lost.

“While it is delicate work once you have the eggs and the milt it can be as simple as mixing them with some seawater in a bowl to fertilise them,” says Brooke.

Brooke says the type of land-based fish farming they are proposing would also sit well alongside the growing seaweed aquaculture industry.

“Fish aquaculture can put a lot of nutrients in the water, but it could be partnered with a seaweed algal pond that could filter the water and produce a high value organic fertiliser,” says Brooke.

The William Georgetti Scholarship supports postgraduate study and research important to the social, cultural or economic development of New Zealand.


This research aligns with the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Decent Work and Economic Growth Life Below Water

Latest stories

Related stories

International collaboration aims to put scientists ahead of coronavirus

University of Waikato researcher Dr William Kelton has been working with international partners to prepare…

Waikato shines bright in a sea of stars at science awards

University of Waikato scientists and researchers shone brightly in a stellar showcase of science talent…

Seven scholarships announced on Kīngitanga Day support rangatahi and the environment

Seven University of Waikato undergraduate students have been awarded the Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu…

Tauranga research has potential to reduce carbon emissions on ‘million-tonne scale’

Grinding rock and spreading it onto farmland doesn’t seem like a way to fight carbon…

Massive funding boost for Waikato research

From incorporating mātauranga Māori into marine restoration to Xeno Nucleic Acids that could have impacts…

Study offers first comprehensive assessment of extreme heat risks across Aotearoa

A new University of Waikato-led study, published this week in Climatic Change, has provided a…

Research into Great White Sharks in Bay of Plenty set to begin

A new project bringing together local iwi, marine ecologists, fisheries scientists and shark experts will…

Making change by Counting Ourselves

The second Counting Ourselves survey goes live today, Thursday 1 September.

Shining light on the potential of indigenous research, science and innovation

University of Waikato welcomes yesterday’s announcement of the government’s investment in Māori research, science and…

Fish farming licence adds depth to research

Large-scale research into a wide variety of algae is a step closer for Aotearoa’s first…

Three new professors announced

University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor, Professor Neil Quigley has today shared the appointment of some distinguished…

Kiri Reihana

Ocean scientist awarded L’Oréal Fellowship

A University of Waikato PhD student has won a L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science mentoring…