Revolutionary PGP fish harvesting technology wins new category in Hi-Tech Awards

The six-year PGP partnership launched in 2012.

Primary Growth Partnership participant Precision Seafood Harvesting has notched up another accolade, winning the inaugural Maori innovation award at the annual Hi-Tech Awards for its sustainable fishing technology that allows wild fish to be selected and handled with better care to lift their value (see full Hi-Tech Awards results here).

Sponsored by government-funded Callaghan Innovation, the Maori innovation award attracted a record number of entries for a new category.

Precision Seafood Harvesting does away with traditional trawl nets by allowing fish to be contained comfortably underwater inside a large flexible PVC liner where they are sorted for the correct size and species before being brought on board the fishing vessel.

The six-year PGP partnership launched in 2012 involves fishing companies Aotearoa Fisheries, Sanford, and Sealord investing $26 million with matching government funding. Together the three fishing companies account for more than 30 percent of the quota for the top nine species of fish in New Zealand waters.

It is one of 21 government and industry PGPs funding long-term innovation to improve the success of the country's primary industries and meet the government's target of boosting the sector's exports to $64 billion by 2025. To date, $727 million of government and industry funding has been committed across the programmes.

Scientists at Plant & Food Research are partnering with the fishing companies to develop and trial the PSH technology on commercial fishing vessels.

The award comes as a new report this month said the number of fish caught in New Zealand waters has been under-reported for six decades. The study by the Fisheries Centre at British Columbia University in collaboration with Oxford and Auckland universities, exposed deliberate fish dumping, embedded under-reporting, and significant wastage.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has rejected the study's figures but RNZ reported this week that a leaked MPI report shows its own officials believed between 20 to 100 percent of some quota fish are being discarded during every haul and that its own failure to prosecute offending skippers is contributing to the problem.

Precision Seafood Harvesting is in the fourth year of its commercialisation phase following nearly 10 years of New Zealand research. The design of its modular harvesting system allows fishing vessels to target specific in-shore species and fish size and increases protection for small fish that can swim through 'escape portals' and non-target fish (by catch), which are released unharmed.

Once on deck, the fish still swim within the liner in perfect condition which means fresher and higher value products to consumers.

PSH this year launched the premium seafood brand, Tiaki, which has attracted the attention of industry players worldwide. Plant & Food Research said the technology is expected to be offered to the wider industry from 2019 and to increase New Zealand's gross domestic product by $43.6 million by 2025.

When Tiaki was launched, PSH programme manager Dave Woods said there's increasing demand from consumers to be more connected with where their food comes from and the commercial fishing industry needed to transform the methods used to harvest it.

"This is a changing world, people are demanding to know where their seafood comes from and they are demanding that we care for the stocks of fisheries that we fish. We have to rise to that challenge and we have to use every available technology to do that."

Tiaki-caught fish will come with a traceability app that can be downloaded onto customers' smartphones so they can find out where and how their fish was caught.

The first set of results from two years of testing the harvesting method published last year showed survival rates for fish were better than expected. In its latest update, PSH said the methodology and analysis for those initial post-harvest survival rates are in the final stages of being validated with MPI.

Prototype designs have been further modified for better performance and larger and stronger designs have been tested on deeper water hoki factory trawlers which are in commercial test phase.

PSH has already been recognised in a number of award programmes including a finalist in the global SeaWeb Seafood Champions Awards this year, the Supreme Award and Innovation in Sustainability and Clean-Tech at the 2014 Innovator Awards, and the People's Choice Award at the 2014 Kiwinet Awards.


(BusinessDesk receives assistance from Callaghan Innovation to cover the commercialisation of innovation).