Akaroa Salmon

July 2024

Akaroa Salmon aims for a small environmental footprint.

When the father and son who founded Akaroa Salmon first ate a fish they had raised on their fledgling salmon farm, they looked at each other and said: ‘Wow, this tastes pretty good! We might be onto something’. Indeed, they were. Decades of hard graft and challenges ensued, including when the main export market they were nurturing imploded. Left with 40 tonnes of salmon, there was no choice but to get into the family car and drive around New Zealand hotels and restaurants saying, ‘we can supply you with fresh salmon 12 months of the year – put it on the menu’.    


Today, with its own hatchery and a state-of-the-art processing plant, Akaroa Salmon has one of the smallest environmental footprints of any ocean salmon farm in the world and produces over 1,000 tonnes of delectable salmon, fresh and smoked, each year.   


Amongst the most sustainable ocean fish farming enterprises in the world, Akaroa Salmon started out as a light bulb moment for Banks Peninsula sheep and cattle farmer Tom Bates some four decades ago. On a diving trip in Southland, he was taken to Stewart Island by a local fisherman and shown salmon that were being raised in a pen floating in the bay.   


Ever the pragmatist, Tom thought this would work in Akaroa – we have wild salmon in the harbour, we’re from farming stock and we understand how to care for animals. He returned home full of enthusiasm, inspiring son Duncan, and together the two men did the hard yards to establish their salmon farming operation. Today, Akaroa Salmon supplies chefs and home cooks alike, in New Zealand and around the world, with premium King salmon – fresh whole fish and cuts, as well as smoked, both hot and cold.   


Tom is now retired but still finds it satisfying to reflect on what has been achieved since the 1980s when he thinks about the current-day farming operation on the peninsula and the modern processing plant at Wigram. “We worked shoulder to shoulder as a family getting the business established and growing it. Earlier on, Duncan spent more time on the farm while I built the market,” he says. “Knowledge was short at times, and money even shorter, but when your family’s financial security is on the line, and you believe in what you’re doing – and you keep at it – sooner or later it’s going to work.” 


Duncan adds: “We worked well together. I was young and energetic, and Dad had a lifetime in farming. Neither of us could have done it independently. Sometimes I wanted to walk away, but Dad said hang in there and I’m forever grateful he did – he had the resilience, the grit, and the vision”.  


Finding capital to build the business was an ever-present challenge and Akaroa Salmon was majority foreign owned for a period. Happily, the company has been fully back in New Zealand hands since 2021 with ownership now including the Bates family, an Auckland-based investment family, Ngāti Porou and the Akaroa mana moana Ōnuku Runanga.  


Akaroa Salmon is an active guardian of the local waterways under the New Zealand aquaculture industry’s A+ programme. This sets world-leading sustainability standards across a range of environmental, community and social criteria, measuring the company’s performance against those standards. Together with the A+ programme, the company voluntarily subscribes to the environmental standards of the Best Management Practices guidelines established for salmon farming by local councils, science providers, community representatives, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and international experts.   


Worldwide recognition for Akaroa Salmon comes with the ‘green’ rating accorded by the globally respected Seafood Watch, an independent conservation organisation and consumer guide that sits under the umbrella of Monterey Bay Aquarium in the United States. Seafood Watch also applies the green rating to other King salmon farms in New Zealand.  


“Akaroa Harbour is our backyard. We swim here, we fish here, we work here. It’s our job to help protect it,” says Duncan. “This is an important place for a lot of people – not just us. We are 100 percent aware of that and we give it full respect. All the people working on the farm are locals and their families are attached to the harbour. A lot of other people live beside and work on the harbour too.” 


Among the company’s eco-initiatives is monitoring and reporting on the environment of the sea floor beneath its farms, with a site-specific management plan prepared by scientists at the Cawthron Institute. Another initiative sees Akaroa Salmon use an underwater robot to clean algae and seaweed off the farm nets with sit bubbles, rather than anti-fouling chemicals. 


A high-quality proprietary fish feed hand-fed daily by farm staff also has the stamp of approval environmentally, as well as in terms of animal care. Willie Manuel has been hands-on in raising fish at Akaroa Salmon farms for the past 20 years. He is descended from Ngāti Porou iwi and represents the local Ōnuku runanga, both of which have a stake in Akaroa Salmon. “In feeding by hand, our farming staff get to closely observe our salmon and ensure the fish are well cared for and nourished as they grow through the changing seasons,” says Willie. “Variables such as weather, tidal flow and water temperature can influence salmon appetite,” he adds. 


A cornerstone value for Akaroa Salmon – and one the company puts into action on a daily basis – is its respect and care for its surrounding community. “Hiring local people, using local suppliers, supporting local causes is important to us,” says Duncan. Currently, Akaroa Salmon employs 88 staff members across its farming and processing activities. 


Duncan adds: “Growing food, adding value through processing and developing markets create jobs and economic growth in rural communities. We are proud to continue building this legacy – one that began with a flash of inspiration when Dad was away on a diving trip – and has seen a lot of hard graft, and gratifying success, over the decades since”.   


With Akaroa Salmon’s flavoursome range of cuts and cures to choose from, Tom Bates’ favourite dish is a whole fish grilled to perfection. For Duncan it is manuka hot smoked salmon with wasabi aioli and crusty bread. Willie’s top choice, especially for brunch, is cold smoked salmon with poached eggs.   


In 2024, Akaroa Salmon won 4 gold medals and a Champion award in the “Water” category in the Outstanding Food Producer Awards. Golds went to their Fresh Salmon Portions, Mānuka Hot Smoked Salmon, and Mānuka Cold Smoked Salmon, while the Fresh King Salmon Fillet added the Champion title to its gold medal. A satisfying endorsement for this company that is determined to remain true to the philosophy it began with in 1985.