Media Release – 25 May 2018.

The latest King Shag Census in Marlborough shows a surprising decline in bird numbers and that more work is needed to understand the environmental conditions that affect this unique species, New Zealand King Salmon says.

Released today, the census report was written by independent ornithologist Rob Schuckard for New Zealand King Salmon (NZKS) and reviewed by seabird expert Rachel McClellan. It found an average of 634 birds, which is a decline of 200 birds compared to the 2015 baseline survey.

“NZKS takes its environmental obligations very seriously,” NZKS Sustainability Manager Mark Gillard says.

“That’s why we were very proactive in working with a range of stakeholders to develop a King Shag Management Plan. As a part of this, 2015’s aerial survey was the first of its kind, following previous boat-based surveys, which were considered less reliable.”

“There is a significant element of uncertainty as to the reasons for this year’s surveyed decline in population. A recent Department of Conservation count found a similar decrease.

“The census report identifies a range of potential factors, including two severe weather events – Cyclones Fehi and Gita – which saw more extreme wind than the region is used to experiencing.

“It is notable that the most sheltered colony is the only site that has seen the population expand, while the most exposed site has seen a significant population decline and in one case the birds completely abandoned the location.

“Other possible factors that could have led to the potential decline include climate change factors, a decline in immunity to infections, and naturally occurring population density changes,” says Mr Gillard.

The King Shag was first recorded in Queen Charlotte Sound by JR Forster on James Cook’s second voyage in 1773 where their numbers were noted even then only as ‘very few in New Zealand’.

“It is important we understand what is driving the potential changes in population, to ensure the sustained survival of this unique species in the Sounds.

“We have reviewed our management practices and controls in place at specific farm sites and we’re confident that the right measures are in place to avoid detrimental effects on the King Shag colonies. Our next step from here is to move to annual surveys until population stability can be demonstrated.

“Additionally, we are working closely with a range of organisations including the Department of Conservation, Ministry of Primary Industries, Marlborough District Council, Marine Farming Association, the forestry sector, along with Mr Schuckard and iwi to undertake specific research to better understand this species.

“Salmon farming is already one of the most environmentally-friendly forms of animal food production in the world, and we are always trying to do even better for our shareholders, our local communities, our consumers, and all New Zealanders,” Mr Gillard says.


See the bottom of our Best Management Practice page for reports on King Shags.

About New Zealand King Salmon:

New Zealand King Salmon is the world’s largest aquaculture producer of the premium King salmon species. We operate under our four key brands: Ōra King, Regal, Southern Ocean, and Omega Plus, as well as the New Zealand King Salmon label. We have been growing and selling salmon to consumers for more than 30 years. Today we employ around 500 people. New Zealand investors make up a significant percentage of the ownership of NZ King Salmon and the communities of Marlborough, Nelson Bays and Tasman are well represented with more than 400 of the 2,200 shareholders from top of the South. More information can be found at