Science and seafood - natural partners - 13/05/1999

The seafood industry needs to embrace science and technology to increase productivity and the market value of its products, the Chief Executive of the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited (GNS), Andrew West said today.

The seafood industry has the potential to double the market value of its products and triple its share of that value, Dr West told the annual Seafood Industry Council conference in Auckland.

There should be a complete focus on consumer markets rather than the present commodity focus in much of the industry.

By aiming at discerning, high-income consumers, just as the venison industry had successfully done, the fishing industry could achieve a unique branded position and could maintain a premium price in the market place.

Investment in science, technology, and marketing would be crucial in achieving this, Dr West said.

He unveiled a range of marine technologies and skills within GNS and invited the industry to form partnerships with the Institute to realise the next generation of "knowledge-led innovation".

Dr West said GNS acoustic seismologists, who had years of experience working with the oil exploration industry, were developing extremely sensitive and cost-effective technologies aimed at locating and identifying commercial fish species.

" This technology will provide a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly stock management regime. Demanding customers will expect this – diners in the world’s top restaurants want to be free of any guilt when they dine on premium New Zealand fish. They want an assurance that fish species will survive any fishing regime.

" Sustainability is perhaps the key aspect of the brand images the seafood industry is creating. Those brands create and maintain the industry’s premium market prices."

GNS is using its map-making skills to develop "fish prospectivity mapping". This involves using up-datable CD-ROM maps that display a record of a company’s catches tied to other measurable information such as tide, time of day, boat speed, catch weight, catch composition, and bottom topography.

Fishing companies could reduce costs and lift productivity by aligning intelligent map-making with acoustical fish detection technology, Dr West said.

Another technology that GNS was developing would help companies prove that a fish product came from a particular bay or stretch of ocean. Known as "traceability", this would enable the development of regional appellations to support premium brands and prices. "It has worked for the wine industry, and it can work for New Zealand seafood."

The technology behind traceability, known as "isotope ratio determination", will allow companies, through random audits, to prove that a fish product actually came from where they were claiming it had.

Dr West said GNS was also developing a technology to locate bones in fish fillets at production line speeds. " A great eating experience does not include unwanted bones. It is essential that the seafood industry adopts a cost-effective method of eliminating bones in fillets."