Known as “Precision Seafood Harvesting,” the technology does away with traditional trawl nets and, instead, sees fish contained and swimming comfortably underwater inside a large flexible PVC liner.
In that PVC liner, the technology’s backers say, the fish can be sorted for the correct size and species before being brought on-board the fishing vessel.
According to scientists at Plant and Food Research (P&F), one of the agencies behind the technology, the design of the harvesting system allows fishing vessels to target specific species and fish size.
Moreover, the technology greatly increases protection for small fish that can swim free through ‘escape portals’ and non-target fish (by-catch), which are released unharmed.
Once on the deck, the fish still swim inside the liner in good condition, meaning fresher, more sustainable fish for consumers and higher value products for fishing companies using the technology, the scientists claim.
Precision Seafood Harvesting is the result of a decade of collaboration and research between fishing companies Aotearoa Fisheries, Sanford and Sealord, the Ministry of Primary Industries and (P&F).
The fishing companies and the ministry are each investing NZ$26m into the project, while P&F scientists are partnering with the fishing companies to develop and trial the technology on commercial fishing vessels.
It’s the future
Eric Barratt, CEO at Sanford and Chairman of Seafood New Zealand, hailed the project as the future of fishing.
“This is the biggest step forward for commercial fishing in 150 years,” said Barratt.
“What we’ve developed in New Zealand has huge benefits for fish stocks, the environment, consumers and New Zealand’s seafood industry. In the process we’re set to change the global fishing industry for the better,” he added.
Barratt revealed that the Precision Seafood Harvesting program was set up in April 2012 and will run for six years to commercialise new technology in the New Zealand fishing industry.
Carl Carrington, CEO at Aotearoa Fisheries, said that the technology would enhance the industry’s “access to sustainability-conscious consumers, improves product taste and quality, and is good for value growth”.
Sanford, Sealord and Aotearoa have been actively trialling the new technology on their fishing vessels for the past six months.
“Replacing old trawl technology is really important for the industry. We’re going to see better stock recruitment and better stock in the water—it’s better for everyone,” said Nathan Reid, vessel manager at Aotearoa Fisheries.
Greg Johansson, general manager for operations at Sanford, said that the new harvesting will lead on to changes in vessel designs and layouts and the way companies handle fish and get it to consumers.
“This will increase the value of all New Zealand seafood products when the global markets see that we’re taking a big step forward by using a more environmentally-friendly way of harvesting fish,” he said.