Love A Duck
26 November 2001
Young Research Scientist Digs Deep For New Gourmet Seafood From NZ Native Species
LOVE A DUCK
Marine scientist Paul Gribben reckons he has a dream job; travelling to some of the best harbours in New Zealand, diving for seafood and getting paid while he completes his PhD.
The seemingly-idyllic lifestyle is part of a three year research programme into the geoduck, funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, through its Technology for Industry Fellowships scheme.
However, the unique research has the potential to unlock an entirely new marine-based industry.
Paul's research is helping an industry group, including NIWA, Biomarine, Pakiri Marine Farmers and seafood giant Sanford, look at the potential of harvesting, or perhaps even acquaculture farming, of the geoduck.
The bi-valve shellfish takes its oddly-pronounced name ('gooey duck') from the North American Indian word meaning 'to dig deep'. Living half a metre below the seabed, it extends two long siphons up to the seafloor to act as feeding and waste tubes and it is these tender tubes that are highly sought after in the gourmet seafood world.
Paul Gribben describes the taste as 'sweet and mild, a little like a scallop taste with a squid texture'. The geoduck commands the highest price of any bivalve, and this is due as much to its scarcity as its taste- the slow-growing shellfish takes 5-10 years to get to market size. Sales can be highly lucrative though; a Canadian fishery is reputed to be turning out more than $100m pa. from its relatively small geoduck site in Puget Sound.
New Zealand has two native species and very little is known about their numbers or lifestyle, but Paul Gribben is confident his research will provide valuable pointers for the industry.
"We know that they are dotted around New Zealand; we've got records of them in the Coromandel, in Wellington Harbour, Marlborough Sounds, Christchurch and Stewart Island," he says. "What we need to know is what the numbers are and then look at what might be possible in terms of harvesting or aquaculture for the best sustainable outcome."
Teresa Borrell of Sanfords says the research provides a much-needed platform for the whole industry. " Although it is still in the exploratory stage, it is providing us with the base information we need to look at how best to proceed," she says. "There are all sorts of variables; we may be able to farm them, or we might treat them as an enhanced fishery, like the scallops in Golden Bay which are replenished with seed stock."
Ms Borrell says part of Paul Gribben's research over the next year will look at ways of breeding geoducks and Sanfords may be able to use the either subtidal or deep water parts of its oyster farms as aquaculture sites.
The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has provided around $75,000 funding towards the research, and investment manager Ian Gray says it could open up a new dimension for the seafood industry. " We are always keen to help companies, or groups of organisations within a sector, carry out research that will add value. These organisations have identified an area where they saw potential, and carried out the exploratory research needed to determine how best to use their expertise to grow a new market niche."
For more information:
· Teresa Borrell, Sanford Ltd, 09 379 4720, 025 746 285
· Ian Gray, Technology New Zealand at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, 09 912 6730 or 021 660 409. www.technz.co.nz