New Zealand says it has developed a technology that will revolutionize commercial fishing by bringing targeted species undamaged to the surface and keeping unwanted catch alive.
“Precision Seafood Harvesting” replaces trawling nets with flexible plastic liners that allow undersized fish to escape before the remainder are brought onboard, where non-target fish are released unharmed. The method, which has reached commercialization phase after almost 10 years of research, was unveiled by the government and three fishing companies today.
“This is the biggest step forward for commercial fishing in 150 years,” Eric Barrat, chief executive officer at listed fishing company Sanford Ltd., said in a statement. “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.”
Sanford, Aotearoa Fisheries, and Sealord Group have together put NZ$26 million ($22 million) into the project, with the government matching their investment. Scientists at state-owned Plant & Food Research worked with the companies to develop a “humane” system that doesn’t damage either the targeted fish or inadvertently captured animals such as stingrays and sharks.
Small fish can swim free through “escape portals” in the liners before they are raised to the surface. Once on deck, the remaining fish are still swimming inside the liners, meaning unwanted catch can be returned to the sea while the targeted species is landed fresher and in better condition.
The companies said they expect the more environmentally-friendly fishing method to increase the value of New Zealand seafood products. New Zealand’s seafood exports were worth NZ$1.6 billion last year, with China its biggest customer.