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Healthy Fish, Healthy Future

Three hundred delegates from New Zealand’s fishing industry came together in Auckland on 1 October 2013.

Three hundred delegates from New Zealand’s fishing industry came together in Auckland on 1 October for the 2013 New Zealand Seafood Industry Conference.

Don Carson reports on the event, themed ‘Healthy Fish, Healthy Future’.

The 2013 Seafood Industry Conference in Auckland will be remembered as a milestone in the development of commercial fishing in New Zealand.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the one-day conference was the unveiling of a tank full of live fish which had been caught the day before by Precision Seafood Harvesting (PSH) technology.

There had been much speculation in the weeks before the Conference as to what PSH was all about. At the close of a meeting on 20 August of recreational fishers at Bucklands Beach, Sanford Chief Executive Officer Eric Barratt had responded to criticism of alleged commercial waste in the SNA1 fishery by making a big promise.

“You’ll see in about eight weeks’ time the public release of a new technology for catching fish. It replaces trawling and it doesn’t use nets in the way that currently we use trawl nets. We have this technology now in an experimental use on one of our vessels… We’ve had this technology in the water. We’ve had the fish landed into our plants. The way in which this fish come to our plants is completely different. Every fish is in pristine natural condition. This technology will change the way in which the world catches fish.”

In an embargoed media briefing the day before the Seafood Industry Conference, television network crews were given copies of dramatic images of the interior of the ‘fish in a bag’ technology, which was then shown publicly for the first time at the Conference. New Zealand media went big with the news, with television networks especially playing it prominently in their bulletins.

Since then the international news media have also carried the PSH story and will certainly be following the project as it develops in the next few years of its Primary Growth Partnership funding.

The 2013 Seafood Industry Conference covered much more than its highlight PSH launch, however. Seafood New Zealand’s Healthy Fish project was officially launched by the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, who, instead of just posing for a photo shoot with the new Seafood New Zealand fish species poster at the Conference, insisted on taking the time to actually download the QR code printed on it. He told the Conference minutes later that when he went online the recipe that caught his eye was grilled snapper. He did not elaborate whether the snapper had to be recreational or commercial!

Another important announcement Minister Guy made was that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was about to commence work on New Zealand live seafood access into Australia. There is a range of species potentially available for live export across the Tasman, and great enthusiasm among seafood retailers to have New Zealand live imports available.

PSH is likely to expand the range of prospect species even further. Minister Guy told the Conference that MPI would be making a strong scientific case to the Australian authorities that any biosecurity issues they may have can be addressed.

An important theme through the Conference was the reputation of the seafood industry. Although PSH has been the biggest seafood news story of the year, much of the other media reporting has concentrated on negative claims made about the industry.

To work on our reputation for the future, the work needs to start with youth. Emma Bettle and Kylie Power, from the Ministry of Done, gave a joint presentation of their work on informing and educating schoolchildren about the realities of the oceans, the seafood industry and the science behind it.

The two education professionals have drafted school materials to conform with modern teaching practices and technology. Topics include the ways the New Zealand seafood industry maintains its sustainability, ocean pollution, how hoki gets to the dinner plate, our export markets, making stock assessments, and a fish’s view of its environment.

Also dealing with the next generation, with a focus on employing them in the industry, Peter Maich, the Director of the Westport Deep Sea Fishing School, told the Conference about the difficulties of persuading young job hopefuls to go to sea, but that rewards are available for those who do choose careers in fishing.

Peter Douglas, Chief Executive of Te Ohu Kaimoana, pointed to the increasing percentage of Maori in the New Zealand population, and what this might mean in 20 years. Maori are 25 percent of what he called the “comers” (children now under five), 15 percent of the “stayers” (20- to 45-year-olds) and only 11 percent of the “goners” (those older than 45). He said it was vital to ensure that an increasing young Maori population goes into careers, not just in the seafood industry, nor only in primary industries, but in the economy at large, in the years to 2033.

“How do we prepare this Maori population so that they can be worthwhile comers and stayers—to look after you goners?” he asked the Conference.

Douglas said young Maori were sought after in Australia as good workers. “Kids can get off aeroplanes and get jobs on construction sites in the morning, because Maori have got that sort of reputation in Australia, and I wish we had it here,” he said.

Few would be better equipped to give an overview of the increasingly Asian destinations of our primary exports than Sir Graeme Harrison, Chairman of ANZCO Foods. Sir Graeme painted for the Conference an optimistic impression of the growth of China in particular as a still-increasing protein market, although New Zealand is far from the only country to seek to exploit this appetite.

Underpinning the future of the seafood industry is a scientific understanding of seafood species and the marine environment in which they live. The 2013 Conference had a range of speakers on this topic—Graham Patchell of Sealord, Dr Susan Marshall from Plant & Food Research and Dr Chris Cornelisen, an estuarine scientist for the Cawthron Institute. While seafood science has traditionally been concentrated in the water, Dr Marshall described opportunities for further processing seafood to increase the value of the end product.

The presentations mentioned here nowhere near exhaust the variety of topics and the excellent speakers who covered them. If you missed the event but are interested in learning more, the proceedings are available in the ‘Conference’ section at