Shared aspirations for a more precise alternative to full-contact bottom trawling within Aotearoa New Zealand’s fishing industry led to the design of a new harvesting technology, Precision Seafood Harvesting.

The collaborative project between Moana New Zealand, Sanford, Sealord Group, Plant & Food Research and the Ministry for Primary Industries was a ‘Primary Growth Partnership’ and was aimed at developing harvesting technology that would allow more targeted catches of fish in a better condition, fresher and of higher commercial value.[1]

The outcome of years of research is a modular harvesting system made of PVC that can be used as an alternative to traditional full-contact bottom and midwater trawling techniques.

Inside the system is a low-flow environment where fish can swim freely and smaller fish can escape from the system unharmed, or be returned live to the ocean after the gear is brought on-board.[1] The expectation from the use of such technology is that undersized discards would have higher survival rate than traditional methods. The system has commercial benefits, as the fish caught are less likely to be damaged or stressed. While economic benefits are often the driver for research investment, there are key benefits from an animal welfare perspective too (the importance of which is discussed in the section ‘Society’s expectations are changing’).

The experiences of the Precision Seafood Harvesting technology have shone a light on some of the challenges that need to be overcome to support more gear innovation in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The technology has been trialled and approved for use in a number of different fisheries, including deepwater fisheries such as hoki, hake and ling, and inshore fisheries such as John dory, red gurnard, snapper, tarakihi and trevally in the North Island.[2, 3] Fish caught with the system can be sold under the branding of ‘Tiaki’, which comes from the Māori language and means the duty of guardianship, care, protection and conservation.

The experiences of the Precision Seafood Harvesting technology have shone a light on some of the challenges that need to be overcome to support more gear innovation in Aotearoa New Zealand:

  • The regulatory approval of new fishing technologies is a significant hurdle.[2] The current regulation precludes gear improvement as the regulation is framed so that new gear performs exactly the same as the current standard for a given fishery for indicators like selectivity. This process has had barriers and frustrations and has illustrated that the regulatory system needs to adapt to enable gear innovations. These barriers could be removed by a process that evaluates innovation based on desired outcome taking a risk-based approach to evaluate the appropriate approval pathway for each innovation.
  • There’s a tension between commercialising vs open-source tech. The commercial approach to technological development is a barrier to wide uptake, but if the technology was open-source that would create a barrier to initial investment. There is reportedly interest from other countries in this technology,[4] suggesting that there can be commercial benefits beyond the catch itself to be realised from investing in gear tech. This benefit is offset by the lack of access to the technology for other Aotearoa New Zealand companies.
  • Continued iteration must be supported to optimise results in different environments. Some criticisms of the system relate to perceived limited improvement compared to the current standard. Acceptance of the iterative nature of development and testing of new technology in specific settings to improve outcomes will help to achieve the best results for gear innovation in Aotearoa New Zealand’s fisheries.
References and footnotes

[1] Wilson, B. G. et al. (2019) Transforming bulk seafood harvesting by producing the most authentic wild fish, The Solutions Journal, 10(2).

[2] Moore, D. and Smith, J. (2017) Review of the Primary Growth Partnership programme: Precision Seafood Harvesting, Sapere Research Group, p. 4.

[3] Ministry for Primary Industries (2019) Quarterly progress summary: January – March 2019 Precision Seafood Harvesting.

[4] Sanford (2019) Sanford Integrated Report 2019, p. 159.