Aquaculture student on balancing a 4:10 ratio of study to work

Aquaculture student on balancing a 4:10 ratio of study to work

John Jamieson leads a double life. Since early 2016, the 22-year-old has flown into Nelson for four days of class. Then, it's back to Twizel in South Canterbury to work as the Farm and Asset Manager for High Country Salmon. We caught up with the 4th generation Stewart Islander to discuss how study and work suits him.

When we called, John had just finished class at the Nelson campus. He’d flown into Nelson from Christchurch that morning. John spends ten days in Twizel and four days in Nelson studying the Bachelor of Aquaculture and Marine Conservation. He generally flies up on Sunday night and flies back on Thursday, but flew up on Monday this time. He’s into his second year commuting and will continue this until he graduates at the end of 2018.

John works full time for High Country Salmon(external link) - the fifth largest salmon farm in New Zealand. The Twizel-based farm employs 22 staff in the off season and up to 30 staff in summer. John handles all day to day operations. Stuff like production reports, compliance, projections and working with suppliers and the market. Then there’s budgets and business plans, asset planning, health and safety, weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings with the board, and the broader goal of working on ways to improve fish husbandry.

The sea, fish and growing things: it's in his blood. John's great grandfather migrated to Stewart Island with the Norwegian whalers. He ran the slipway in later years. John's grandmother was born on the island. His grandfather was the youngest oyster fisherman at 25. He retired from oystering, brought his own boat and caught crayfish and blue cod. John's father eventually took over the business from his grandfather.

NMIT: You have quite a background in this industry. Why do the degree?

John Jamieson: It was an opportunity to take things to the next level. I had salmon farming experience back on the island and later with King Salmon. But if you want to go above and beyond you need more than experience behind you.

How is the course adding value to your knowledge of aquaculture?

JJ: It’s giving me an ability to think more critically on all matters aquaculture. It is allowing me to understand a broader level of aquaculture and is giving me the tools needed to put me in a good direction for my career. While experience is really good, the tertiary level education goes hand in hand with what I’m doing in the workplace.

Have you been able to mould the course to your liking?

JJ: I’ve found that it’s been incredibly flexible. I spoke with Mark when I was offered the role [at High Country Salmon] and he stood by his word. He said ‘We’ll make it work. If you put in the time and effort there’s no reason why the flexible nature of the programme can’t be tailored to you.’

Do you think the NMIT degree covers everything needed for the industry?

JJ: Absolutely. The course is well situated, it’s well planned and well executed. I’m excited about what that means for the future of aquaculture. Tutors have come with international experience in aquaculture. All the tutors have seen what the rest of the world is doing. They’re very up to date with real life and what the industry is demanding. I like that the course is tailor-made to fit each student's needs.

Did you ever contemplate being a fisherman versus getting into aquaculture?

JJ: I’ve always had an issue with fishing because I grew up with a fish allergy.

No way, that’s ironic!

JJ: Very. My father used that as a good excuse to focus me on land-based careers. I studied agriculture at Lincoln University and spent the weekends and uni holidays on the island mussel and salmon farming. Ag wasn’t my passion though. Eventually I came full circle. I started mussel farming and then ventured into salmon farming full time. 

Does your fish allergy include all seafood? 

JJ: Just fish and salmon. I initially had to be very careful with what I did. I never let that stop me. Obviously my role now is different. I’m not so much at the coal face but earlier there were challenges for sure. 

You’re two years in now, so how are you finding work and study?

JJ: There have been times when the workload is high in both aspects, in my role and with the course, but it certainly balances out nicely and enables me to have a good work to study to life ratio. I am living two lives in Nelson and Twizel and it’s fairly demanding. I think if I didn’t have that passion I wouldn’t do it. But, when you’ve found what you want to spend the rest of your life doing, it makes it easy.

What is your main passion now within aquaculture?

JJ: There are two categories that get me the most excited. One is growing protein, or a farmed animal, at an incredibly efficient meat conversion ratio and meeting the challenge of feeding the world. The second is having staff who are good people. Predominantly, aquaculture is in regional New Zealand. So you look at Marlborough, Stewart Island, where I am in South Canterbury - they’re smaller communities with people who know each other and look after each other. I’m particularly passionate about what it does for those small communities.

The water space in New Zealand is pretty special. We grow a unique product in the form of fish, mussels, and oysters and we do that to a high standard. We do what the rest of the world can’t. I’ve grown this real desire to make a difference in the industry.

Find out more about studying aquaculture at NMIT.

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