Precision Seafood Harvesting: Partnership update

Precision Seafood Harvesting: Partnership update

Innovation in sustainable fishing

Precision Seafood Harvesting is a $43 million, seven-year Primary Growth Partnership between the Ministry of Primary Industries and three fishing companies, Moana New Zealand, Sealord Group and Sanford Limited, to develop new fishing technology in conjunction with Plant & Food Research. These companies are all Te Hono alumni.

We wrote a story about the partnership when it was four years into the seven-year programme and, now that the partnership has ended, we return to take a look at what the group has achieved.

The Tiaki system

Tiaki was developed in New Zealand by Precision Seafood Harvesting after several years of extensive research and collaboration between New Zealand’s top fish physiologists, leading seafood companies and government.

“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 risen to that challenge and used technology to do so,” says Garry Wilson, chairman of Precision Seafood Harvesting.

The Tiaki modular harvesting system has set a new benchmark in premium quality by delivering fresh wild-capture fish in pristine condition. The Tiaki system is putting high-value sustainable fish on the table for consumers while looking after fish stocks and protected species.

“This is a transformative technology that New Zealand is leading the world in,” says Steve Tarrant, chief executive officer of Moana New Zealand.

How does Tiaki work?

The Tiaki design allows fish to swim freely within a trawl chamber for as long as necessary, reducing stress, fatigue and damage. Small fish escape and unintended catch can be released. The process was observed with specially designed underwater cameras. The Tiaki system ultimately delivers fish in a much better condition and thus higher value.

Importantly, the Tiaki designs offer a passive, low energy method of escapement from the trawl system compared to mesh-based designs. Although difficult to quantify, the video evidence from multiple tows supports the proposition that fish going through the specially designed ‘escapement holes’ underwater are believed to have a better chance of survival than through traditional trawl mesh escapement.

“We can get a higher value because the fish aren’t damaged. For hoki, that means more product at the higher end of the quality cascade, such as skinless fillets or whole chilled hoki, and less volumes of the lower end products like B-grade fillet blocks, mince or fishmeal,” says Dave Woods, programme manager of Precision Seafood Harvesting.

Benchmarks of success

The aim of the Precision Seafood Harvesting Primary Growth Partnership was to develop a new wildfish harvesting technology that would result in more precise catches, allowing fish to be landed fresher, in better condition, and of higher value, and to improve the survivability of unintended catch – thus maintaining sustainable fish stocks where as many juveniles as possible survive to generate the fisheries of the future and ensure our livelihoods.

Through the development of the Tiaki system, there is now an established pathway for continuing innovation in trawl technology that didn’t exist prior.

The seven-year partnership ended in September 2019 having achieved more than it set out to, including:

  • A positive change in mindset and culture grew as all the partners worked collaboratively for a more sustainable and high value catch. Kaitiakitanga (stewardship) was at the centre of this as the Tiaki technology started to take shape.
  • Inshore vessels can fish further from port and in deeper waters since fish in the Tiaki module chambers remain in a stress-free state and can be caught efficiently. This has produced a flow-on benefit in terms of catch composition (species) and the ability to avoid fishing areas where undersized species such as snapper are prevalent. It has also reduced the interplay with recreational fishers.
  • The technology has enabled fishing strategy changes, including longer tows, without compromising fish quality.
  • There are probable gains in fuel consumption efficiency which are being quantified and may result in a lower carbon footprint per kilo caught.
  • Anecdotally, Precision Seafood Harvesting is seeing improved fish stocks already.
  • The Tiaki system opens opportunities for changes in vessel design and layout such as fish pounds and ergonomic fish handling systems.
  • Diverse wider economic opportunities such as strategic partnerships, gear manufacturing and supply, tracking systems and chain-of-custody technology opportunities also exist. Precision Seafood Harvesting intends to build on the passive environment of the Tiaki system and develop a release-at-depth strategy known as Datalink. One of its aims will be the ability to expand and improve the environmental performance by detecting and releasing any protected and endangered species such as marine mammals and seabirds safely.

Precision Seafood Harvesting has been recognised as leading in innovative technology with the following awards and numerous other nominations:

  • Winner of the Callaghan Innovation Mà„ori Innovation Award, June 2016
  • Supreme Winner of the NZ Innovators Awards, October 2014
  • Winner of the Innovation in Sustainability & Clean Tech Award, NZ Innovators Awards, October 2014
  • Sustainable Innovation winner at KiwiNet Awards, June 2014

Next steps for Precision Seafood Harvesting

The Tiaki system now has regulatory approval by the New Zealand Government for both inshore and deep-sea use. Having passed strict criteria for each of; size selectivity, species composition, benthic impact (measured as catch per unit effort) and impact on protected species, it is currently in commercial use in New Zealand under licence on seven deepwater and nine inshore vessels and will be commercially available worldwide from 2022.

The Tiaki story demonstrates how innovation, collaboration, perseverance and culture change can break the mould of an entrenched commercial fishing harvest method.

“We hope this is a step change for innovation in the way we fish. To do this we have had to test and prove every aspect of the new designs because they are so new and different, and this has never been done before,” says Charles Heaphy, of the Sealord Group.

Tiaki is transformative technology that is proven to reduce defects and increase product quality, landed values, product cascade outcomes and yields. There remains the potential to further develop novel, value-added seafood products and categories for new, higher value markets.

“Tiaki isn’t just creating a new way to fish, it’s creating whole new industry opportunities around this innovation like manufacturing and supporting the new fishing gear and new vessel designs,” says Volker Kuntzsch, former chief executive of Sanford.

Alistair Jerret, of Plant & Food Research, says: “The fish is at the centre of what we do. If we do what’s best for the fish, it’s actually best for everyone.”

“The fish is at the centre of what we do. If we do what’s best for the fish, it’s actually best for everyone.”

Alistair Jerret, Plant & Food Research