After eight years with Cawthron, and three years as their Group Manager Aquaculture and Biotechnology, Danette Olsen is about to join Plant and Food’s newly established Seafood Technologies Group as their General Manager of Science. We asked Danette to put CRIs and their role…
Q) You saw some massive changes during your time at Cawthron – what’s your proudest achievement?
A) Cawthron has grown quite a bit over the last 8 years, and there are so many things I am proud of. If I were to choose one, it would have to be securing a future for core research areas – shellfish aquaculture, seafood safety and marine biosecurity – and the expansion of our facilities at the Glen. Government funding for research is just so critical to support the development of the science capability and infrastructure needed to grow the aquaculture sector. I am especially pleased that we collaborate widely both nationally and internationally, and that our facilities at the Glen have become a real hub for aquaculture science. You only have to be at the Glen for a few minutes before you feel the energy and momentum being created there – there is a real sense of discovery and achievement and of doing something that will make a real difference.
Q)What do you think the greatest challenge is for Cawthron going forward?
A) The changes in Government science funding, in particular, the establishment of Core Purpose funding for CRIs has left Cawthron feeling somewhat vulnerable. Cawthron, while not a CRI, is the lead shellfish aquaculture research organisation in New Zealand. As a community owned Trust, Cawthron is similar to CRIs in that it was established to undertake public good science for the benefit of the nation. I, and others at Cawthron, have long argued that we hold the national capability in shellfish aquaculture and marine biotoxin research. It is pleasing that Government has recognised that capability of national importance can and does sit outside CRIs. MSI recently announced a fund for Independent Research Organisations that will provide capability funding to organisations like Cawthron. Cawthron needs to be able to secure long term funding through this process if it is to continue to deliver science programmes to the aquaculture sector.
Q) What role do you see R&D playing in the aquaculture sector?
A) I think R&D is going to be absolutely critical for the aquaculture sector. You just have to look at how science has helped advance the development of landbased industries over the past 100 years. However, for R&D to impact on the industry, there needs to be strong partnerships between research organisations, industry and Government. Aquaculture companies need to develop their own R&D capacity so that they are able to take the science developed in research institutes and translate that into the real world. The SPATnz partnership is a fantastic example of that.
Q) What do you think the biggest future gains will be?
A) Selective breeding, new species and adopting technologies developed by other industries both nationally and internationally. The industry is still working with what nature throws up. Cawthron has spent the last 10 years perfecting the art of shellfish breeding and the associated hatchery systems required to grow larvae and spat on land. It has created a heap of knowledge and expertise that can be applied to a range of different species. We have just started working with Flat Oysters and Geoduck, and while there are obvious differences, the expertise we have gained with mussels and Pacific oysters is enabling us to make rapid progress on domesticating these new species. Right now, traditional breeding approaches enable us to make big gains in traits such as growth rate, shell shape, shell strength and colour. In the very near future – the more sophisticated molecular tools currently used in the crop, horticulture and agricultural industries will be applied to make further gains.
Q) You’re moving into a newly created seafoodwide position with Plant and Food – how will your aquaculture background be utilised?
A) Plant and Food are experts in food science – and at the end of the day aquaculture is about growing food. Plant and Food and Cawthron are already collaborating in selective breeding and seafood safety programmes – with a focus on post-harvest science. One of the areas we have started working on recently is linking Plant and Food’s sensory science to Cawthron’s breeding programmes. We want to make sure that when we breed for desirable traits (e.g. rapid growth) we don’t unintentionally breed for undesirable traits (e.g. tough flesh). I would like to see more of this “vertically integrated” science going forward – bringing aquaculture production research and sensory science together.
Q) NIWA is the Crown’s lead aquaculture research institute – where does Plant and Food fit in?
A) NIWA receives Core Purpose funding for aquaculture production research – and over the past few years it has focussed primarily on fin-fish production research. Plant and Food receives Core Purpose Funding for seafood-food based research – whether that seafood is harvested from the wild or produced on farm. Obviously the two CRIs work in areas that are closely aligned, and the best outcomes for industry are achieved when scientists from the two organisations work together.
Q) What are your priorities in the new role?
A) This role focuses on the broader seafood sector – so while I have been working with the aquaculture sector for many years it has been a while since I had much to do with the fisheries side of things (last time was when I worked for FRST and looked after Fisheries and Aquaculture contracts). My first priority will be to find out from the industry what their priorities are for science, and how Plant and Food can ensure it is delivering what the industry needs today, as well as in the future. I will also be spending a fair bit of time finding out more about the science undertaken at Plant and Food, and looking for ways that Plant and Food, NIWA and Cawthron can build on existing relationships to build strong research programmes focussed on supporting sustainable development of the seafood industry.