To coincide with the recent celebration of Marlborough’s founding day, we take a brief look at the history of salmon farming, which has become such an integral part of our region’s future. King salmon has been farmed in New Zealand since the 1970s, but the species, also called Chinook or Quinnat salmon, was first introduced to New Zealand from California as a wild game fish in the late 19th century.

It was first farmed on a commercial basis in New Zealand in 1976 at Tasman’s Te Waikoropupu Springs as an ocean ranching farm, from which freshwater salmon were sold in 1978. Another was established on the lower Clutha River, and large-scale hatcheries for release were created on the Rakaia River and at Tentburn. Today, New Zealand King Salmon has hatcheries in both Tentburn and Te Waikoropupu Springs.

New Zealand’s first net pen salmon farm was established at Stewart Island in 1983. Marlborough salmon farming followed shortly after and quickly evolved with strong market demand – despite being told, in the early days of the industry, that salmon farming would never work in Marlborough. For those developing the industry, it meant constant and rapid adjustment of farming methods to keep up.

An instrumental player in that development was New Zealand King Salmon’s Mark Gillard, who has been involved with Marlborough’s salmon farming story since its earliest days, and continues that involvement now.Photos of Mark Gillard in the 1980s and today

Arriving here to work in what was little more than a pilot programme in 1985 in Hallam Cove, he was responsible for establishing New Zealand King Salmon’s operation there, then its Waihinau Bay farm, in 1989. Southern Ocean Seafoods and Regal Salmon merged in 2006. The rest of the farms in the merger rolled out in this order:

Ruakaka – 1986
Otanerau – 1989
Waihinau Bay – 1989
Te Pangu – 1990
Forsyth Bay – 1994
Clay Point – 2006
Crail Bay – 2009
Crail Bay – 2010
Ngāmāhau – 2015
Waitata – 2016
Kopāua – 2016

Mark has dedicated his career to the salmon farming sector; he has been fully involved in legislative reviews and changes and in the development of rapidly changing technology and innovation that is so important to the success of the industry.