20 Mar 2017

NZ-developed ethical fishing method in line for top award

12:13 pm on 20 March 2017

A Napier fisherman has been nominated for a major international award for a cage that allows under-sized fish to swim free.

Karl Warr came up with the idea for attaching a cage to the back of a net to allow smaller fish to swim free.

Karl Warr came up with the idea for attaching a cage to the back of a net to allow smaller fish to swim free. Photo: Supplied / Dan Henry

Large numbers of fish caught in conventional nets are undersized or of the wrong species and are dumped back in the sea, many having died already.

Karl Warr has been determined to change this.

He began fishing in the conventional way, using trawl nets that pull up everything to the surface, and remembers his reaction when he first brought in a haul of fish.

"First of all it's [a case of] wow, look at all that fish - so that's an exciting feeling when you see so much fish come up at once.

"And then I guess a quiet remorse as to how many of these are we actually keeping and how many have died so that we can keep those."

He described conventional fishing methods as economic genocide.

"The bottom line for that is I'm throwing away great product for next year and the season after and reducing the viability of the stock to be able to rebuild."

Wanting to fish in an ethical way, Mr Warr came up with a cage attached to the back of his net that allowed smaller fish to swim free.

The cage can be modified to accommodate whichever species being harvesting that day.

Karl Warr

Karl Warr says conventional fishing methods are economic genocide. Photo: Supplied / Dan Henry

'Backyard operation'

Mr Warr financed the project himself, without financial support from the Ministry for Primary Industries.

"It's a very small backyard operation here in New Zealand, so it's quite flattering to have global attention on what we're doing, he said.

US ocean conservation group Sea Web named Mr Warr as a finalist in its Seafood Champions awards, and the winner will be announced at a ceremony in Seattle in June. "The opportunity to get over to Seattle and meet with other industry champions over there will be a great thing."

A trial last year by Niwa found the modified net caught 10- to 40-percent less undersized and small flounder than a standard trawl net.

Niwa scientist Emma Jones said a funding application was in this year to carry out further trials following the positive initial results.

"As an individual who has worked on his own without significant research funding of any sort, it's pretty impressive for him to be nominated as a finalist, Dr Jones said.

"There's a number of these kinds of awards and it's really important that they are recognised as a way to encourage people around the world who are trying to change the fishing industry."

Because the fish is caught ethically it commands a higher price at high end restaurants he sells to in Napier, Auckland and overseas.

One of his best customers is chef and owner of Napier's Bistronomy restaurant, James Beck.

There was growing awareness among his customers about the methods used to catch the fish on their plates, he said.

"There's the two edges to it really. There's the consumers - and that starts with people like chefs but also starts, I guess, with the large chain supermarkets who I imagine would buy a huge amount of fish.

"And then on the other hand it starts with people within the industry, like Karl, standing up and saying, 'look things aren't working well'. And hopefully there's other people from within industry as well who will also sit up and take notice."