A small fishing company in Murihiku Southland, Gravity Fishing, has such high demand for their premium product with 100% traceability and transparency that the owner is supporting other fishers around the country to establish similar business models to help meet demand.

The owner, Nate Smith, has sustainability firmly entrenched his business model. He was recently awarded the Emerging Leader Award at the New Zealand Seafood Sustainability Awards. The drive for sustainability comes from Nate’s observation that fish stocks were declining in the waters around Rakiura Stewart Island where he had fished for years.

Acting on his concerns about how fishing methods and the amount of fish being taken were negatively impacting his local environment, Nate flipped the usual commercial fishing model on its head. Aspects of his approach that could help other businesses add a premium to their sustainably caught seafood products include:

A smiling man with a beard and a cap stands on the deck of a fishing vessel, holding a large silver-grey fish

Nate Smith of Gravity Fishing. Image credit: Gravity Fishing.

  • Catching only what is wanted. Rather than fishing as much as possible and finding a market afterwards, Gravity Fishing’s business is based on a catch-to-order system. The crew tells their mailing list what Nate expects to catch, based on where he’s going fishing, and then takes orders and fishes only that amount. The fish-to-order system means that no fish is wasted.
  • Using a precise and minimal impact fishing method. Concerns about fishing impact drove Nate to strip back the fishing process to the most basic method. The crew changed their fishing method to use a traditional hook and line technique, modernised by the electronic jigging technology. Based on the number of fish the crew want to catch (from the orders made before departure), they will put a specific number of hooks on the line. The jigging technology recognises when fish are on the line and within less than a minute they are brought to the surface. The fast catch coupled with using the Japanese method ikijime to kill the fish quickly maintains the fish at a very high quality. The method also allows the fishers to cause minimal impact to the seafloor and have limited or no bycatch.
  • Keeping the supply chain short. The business model keeps things local and cuts out the middleman. As well as fishing, the crew do the processing and packaging of their fish. Initially Gravity Fishing fished-to-order for people around Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas, but as a further commitment to sustainability (by reducing transport and packaging needs), the business now limits supply to those where delivery is nearby.
  • Selling the whole fish. Rather than processing the fish to fillets, Gravity Fishing sell the fish whole to people they supply, mainly restaurants. This eliminates the need for them to deal with fish waste or establish markets for by-products and gives people the chance to use other parts of the fish in food products.
  • Letting people see for themselves. Gravity Fishing is very open about its processes, documenting details online and regularly updating social media. But for the ultimate transparency, the crew offers an experience for people to go out on a fishing trip to learn exactly how the fish gets from the ocean to their plate.

Together, limiting catch, selling the whole fish, having a short supply chain and being open about processes so customers are confident in the sustainability of the product, allows Gravity Fishing to charge a significant premium. Selling the fish for around six times as much as was charged previously enables the business to catch the equivalent times fewer fish, helping stocks to replenish.

A key part of being able to replicate Gravity Fishing’s model among other small, local fishers nationwide is ensuring that small independent fishers have access to quota. Access to a quota package of mixed species has the potential to transform his and similar businesses.

Gravity Fishing’s experience shows that having complete transparency which allows customers to see the responsible fishing approaches used to catch the fish they buy adds significant value to the catch. Sustainably caught fish with 100% traceability and transparency is viewed as a premium product.