Fish Health

Management of fish health is crucial to the future success of our aqauculture industry. NIWA has established a disease unit at our Greta Point (Wellington) site to safely contain and study fish diseases.


The Need

The success of Chinook salmon in New Zealand is primarily due to good management, marketing, and of course our New Zealand environment. When compared to other farming regions and their native habitats, New Zealand enjoys a almost complete absence of commercially significant disease-causing agents.  These agents were not imported when Chinook salmon were naturalised to New Zealand and our biosecurity efforts have protected us to this day.

We are now entering a new phase for the finfish aquaculture sector, with the opportunity to culture high value native species such as hapuku and yellowtail kingfish. Infectious agents are a natural part of the ecology and have evolved with their hosts.  It is inevitable that one or more of these native agents will emerge as a commercial risk once large-scale cage farming is operational. As with all animal husbandry we must develop investigative, diagnostic and fish health management services as is the norm in the terrestrial component of the primary sector. 

We must manage the health of our farmed species in a humane and sustainable manner to make New Zealand’s aquaculture products stand out in world markets.

Our Service

NIWA has built capability and expertise to be able to safely contain and study disease.  Our fish containment unit at Greta Point in Wellington has been designed to house fish of varying size and number in a biologically secure facility. The facility has:

  • sufficient tanks for small but fully replicated trails
  • assurance of high quality incoming sea water, by filtering through two micron filters and UV irradiation. This prevents confounding experimental results through the inadvertent introduction of external organisms.
  • excellent sterilisation of outgoing water, by treating with ozone.  This is extremely important to maintain disease security during trials involving pathogens.

Our fish health service is fully supported by our Molecular Group, also based in Wellington. The highly skilled team use a variety of microbiology and molecular tools to isolate and identify the causal agents of diseases in farmed fish and shellfish. This includes protozoa, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

The Molecular Group offers:

  • Both in vitro and in vivo trials of curative or preventive agents, tested for use in aquaculture
  • High through-put enzyme and ELISA based micro-assays, developed for the detection of shellfish diseases such as Bonamia
  • Histological examination of diseased samples through collaboration with an international fish diseases laboratory (Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, Canada).


The trial options that can be conducted in our facility to underpin the initiatives of the aquaculture industry are:

  • Fish feeding trials to test orally delivered treatments
  • Vaccine efficacy trials
  • Disease challenge trials

For further information contact

Dr Vicky Webb (Principal Scientist, Marine & Freshwater Biotechnology)