Nelson helps to develop 'future of fishing'

Last updated 12:57 02/10/2013
Jemma Haenga
WAY OUT: Precision Seafood Harvesting allows small fish to escape unharmed from a new type of tunnel-like net end, and bigger fish to be brought on board trawlers alive and in top condition.

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A new way to catch fish alive and unharmed, secretly developed in Nelson and unveiled yesterday, could revolutionise the New Zealand fishing industry and take hold around the world, Seafood New Zealand chairman Eric Barratt says.

Precision Seafood Harvesting (PSH) was suggested by Nelson Plant and Food Research science group leader Alistair Jerrett to a sceptical fishing industry several years ago. But after the idea was developed, and with an investment of $52 million by three of New Zealand's biggest seafood companies and the Government, it has won the doubters over.

Dozens of people, including the entire crew of the Sealord trawler Otakou, signed confidentiality agreements ahead of yesterday's launch of the new system to just under 300 delegates at the Seafood NZ conference in Auckland.

The system, which has been successfully trialled in commercial volumes, allows small fish to escape unharmed from a new type of tunnel-like net end made of PVC, and bigger fish to be brought on board trawlers alive and in top condition. They can then be sorted, with bycatch species released.

Mr Barratt, who has had a long career in the industry and heads publicly-listed Sanford, and Sealord Group chief executive Graham Stuart said it was the most exciting development in their working lives.

Sealord, Sanford and iwi-owned Aotearoa Fisheries partnered with Plant & Food to develop the system, with the Government matching the industry's contibution dollar for dollar.

The new type of "cod end" has a worldwide patent, and the New Zealand companies expect it to create excitement in the fishing industry around the globe, opening up new ways to both conserve fish stocks and ensure premium-quality fish get to markets.

It can bring fish up alive from 200 metres. Catches from deeper water, unable to survive the ascent, can be landed in much better condition than the present method, which squeezes them into a compact mass in the cod end.

Yesterday's launch was a mixture of a live presentation by Mr Barratt and video clips from a range of industry leaders as well as recreational fishing guru Graeme Sinclair, who gave it his full support.

"This is the future of commercial fishing to me," he said. "It's sensational."

Mr Barratt said PSH aimed to achieve "a fundamental shift" in the industry, from a focus on catching seafood to a focus on handling it. "It will make possible fish handling outcomes that have never been thought of using conventional methods."

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Mr Stuart said it was an opportunity for New Zealand to lead the world, allowing the wild fish industry to catch up with the standards of seafood presentation currently only available to aquaculture.

"Imagine a world where every fish is landed on the deck of a boat alive," he said. "The possibilities beyond that through the post-harvest process are endless and exciting."

Speaking moments after the presentation ended, Sealord general manager of fishing Doug Paulin told the Nelson Mail that he believed the deepwater fishing industry around the world would eventually change to the new technology.

Sealord could already catch as much fish in a day using PSH as with the conventional methods on the Otakou, and the same was possible on larger factory trawlers, he said.

"You lose none of the scale but you get all of the quality. There's no doubt once this is launched internationally, it will go viral."

- Nelson


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