From land to sea

Ryan Steer is one of the first at NMIT to graduate with a Bachelor in Aquaculture and Marine Conservation. This is the only time the 34-year-old has felt clear about his career path, having been in and out of jobs since he left college.

“I didn’t have a lot of direction before I started the course,” he says. “I hadn’t stayed in a job for much longer than 12 months.”

Two years working on an orchard, picking apples and pruning. Two years in the forestry industry in Western Australia driving heavy machinery. One year in Canada working as a ski lift operator. Add a stint with an events company putting up marquees, arranging seating and staging for festivals, and it’s easy to see that Ryan had plenty of motivation. “Yeah, but I didn’t see any of those jobs as a career path,” he says.

While Ryan didn’t know what he wanted to do, he hoped it would include the ocean and scuba diving. That’s when he came across the Aquaculture programmes at NMIT.

Ryan started the Level 5 Diploma in Aquaculture (Fish Farming and Fishery Management) - an existing programme which took two years. At the end of the diploma, Ryan approached New Zealand King Salmon for work over the summer. Instead of a part time summer job, they offered him a full time position on one of their salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

By this time, he had decided to carry on and complete the recently approved degree programme in Aquaculture and Marine Conservation which would take two more years. “I spoke to Mark Burdass the head tutor and asked him if he thought I could handle it. He was right behind it. They’ve all given me lots of support through it. And so I got the job and started working down there. Working seven days on, seven days off, doing courses through King Salmon and doing the degree.”

Home is now split between his parent’s basement and a ‘floating two-storey warehouse’. The bottom storey houses the salmon feed, the silos and feeding equipment. The second storey, a staff room, kitchen and lounge, five bedrooms, toilet, shower, and an office boardroom.

Daily jobs include feeding the fish via computer, looking for abnormal signs and making adjustments to suit. There’s also net mending and cleaning to do. There’s even a bit of scuba diving if pens need fixing to keep predators out.

Juggling study and work was hard at the beginning - especially after more than 10 years in the work force. “Trying to get my head around how to write things was a big challenge at the beginning. The tutors have all been good at teaching us how to write, how to understand what we’re reading. A lot of it comes down to the individual, but they gave us lots of reading, lots of research to read. After a while you start to understand. My writing skills have developed a lot.”

Like many students, Ryan has a student loan and received an allowance for the duration of the diploma, which he has mixed feelings about. “I’d been doing a lot of travelling, so I was already in that mindset of living pretty frugally. It definitely is hard. I mean, by the time you pay rent, you’ve got not much left for food and power or any other expense that might come up ... and there’s always expenses that come up.”

After completing the diploma, Ryan relied on his wages to support him through the degree. Living with his parents helped, too.

Ryan says much of what he learnt during the degree isn’t needed in his current work, but his goal is to move from the farm into a bigger role. “That’s where the course and the degree is going to help set me up,” he says. “Finding the degree and enjoying the diploma, it put me in a position to find a career.”

That career will have something to do with fish health, he says. “I’d possibly think about doing another course at some point, too. I’m going to see how it plays out for the summer at least. Just enjoy having a bit of spare time!”

For anyone wishing to study Aquaculture at NMIT, Ryans says: “Be realistic with your goals and your dreams for your future. It’s a great industry and the industry is going forward. I’d say do the programme, the programme is a hell of a lot of fun, but you get what you put in. If you put in a lot of work then you’ll get great results and you’ll enjoy it. That’s how I’ve found it anyway.”

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