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Big bite of success for fish hook company

Big bite of success for fish hook company

A Nelson-based company is about to launch a radical new fish hook system that has already attracted strong interest internationally, particularly from Norway which is considered one of the world’s leading nations of fishermen and seafarers.

The new manufacturing technology, developed by Prion Technology, is unique worldwide and will provide significant cost savings for the fishing industry. It involves an automated process of assembling fish hooks onto monofilament nylon to make the snoods, or branch lines, used in the international longline fishing industry. Prion has designed and built the manufacturing machinery which produces a more effective replacement for traditional polyester rope systems.

“Fishermen know that monofilament catches more fish, yet the most sophisticated longliners in the world – the large autoliners – have been unable to obtain monofilament snoods at an economical price,” says Prion director, James Mace.

“By automating the process, we can now provide a superior product at a competitive price,” he says.

Prion’s automated machinery selects a hook, monofilament nylon is fed through the eye of the hook from a large spool, the nylon is cut to length and the hook attached, using a proprietary process.

Government R&D funding agency, Technology New Zealand, invested $82,000 in the Prion project and Investment Manager, Lins Kerr, says it is an example of a company creating manufacturing technology around a new export idea.

“Prion had good market information and a commercial strategy and Technology New Zealand’s reference group was able to give advice on intellectual property (IP) issues to help strength the company’s business plan,” says Mr Kerr.

For Prion, the additional investment support was critical to the project’s success.

“Technology New Zealand made a big difference. R&D is a costly process and we were a bunch of guys with limited funding so the Technology New Zealand investment gave us help at a critical stage of development. People seldom invest when it’s just an idea,” says Mr Mace.

He sees Prion’s work as innovative - turning inspiration into reality.

“Keeping the R&D momentum up and driving it forward while continuing to work in a normal job and keep another business afloat can be difficult. If you have an idea, get going as fast as you can. It is easy for distractions to let it take a back seat to the primary income source,” he says.

“You need to be tenacious and we were able to get good interest in the preliminary product and applied feedback into improving it further.”

Prion already has sales in Australia, New Zealand and Norway and is discussing distribution and strategic alliances with large international fishing equipment suppliers. Interest from Scandinavia, Argentina, South Africa and France is strong and Mr Mace hopes to work on this during an international product launch at overseas trade fairs later this year.

The only bar to greater export orders is Prion’s production capacity. It is currently installing new machinery, based on its prototype models, capable of manufacturing commercial volumes.

Mr Mace says Prion had several advantages when heading into the project. He and Prion partner, Andy Smith, introduced autoline technology to New Zealand in 1991 when they managed the purchase, refit and commissioning of the first vessel of its type to fish here, FV Mary Ann. Mr Mace has extensive management experience in the fishing industry and Mr Smith has owned his own autoliner, fishing in New Zealand and the Antarctic. Both have worked extensively overseas so already have excellent contacts with potential customers. A third Prion partner, Ken Keesing, is an expert in automation and control.

Some of the greatest challenges related to the varying quality of raw materials but Prion worked with hook and monofilament suppliers to ensure material consistency. It also developed technical solutions that enabled its machinery to cope with any inconsistent raw materials.

Prion’s next challenge is to apply its technology to inshore longline fleets. Prion’s product will provide significant cost reductions as it replaces a manual task which takes crew thousands of hours every year.

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