HALIFAX, NS – Fisheries innovation was being put to the test earlier this month in southwestern Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy with the start of a pilot study on the effectiveness and practicality of ropeless fishing gear technology for the commercial fishing industry.
The Coldwater Lobster Association is partnering with several oceans technology companies to test and evaluate ropeless fishing gear, acoustic receivers and related technology.
If it can be proven to work, ropeless gear could help reduce entanglement issues to the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Ashored Innovation is one of the companies that have been working on ropeless gear technology, developing a smart buoy that is designed to stay on the ocean floor with the fishing gear, with the capability of being deployed to the surface by fishermen when they are checking their catch. An onboard system would allow all fishermen to see the plotted buoys and the direction the gear is set to avoid setting over top or dragging through set gear when on the fishing grounds.
“We’re excited about this pilot,” said co-founder and Yarmouth native Maxwell Poole, vice-president of marketing and product development.
“There’s still some work to do but I think we’re going to learn a lot,” Poole said. “Certainly everything is working, but we want to make sure that we are stressing it to the max because working in a vacuum is one thing, working in extreme circumstances is another, so we want to make sure what we are doing is highly tested, highly reliable and meets all the needs of the fishermen as well.”
Ashored Innovations have six working prototypes they were putting to the test, working on two different vessels in partnership with the Coldwater Lobster Association and a program through DFO for scientific licences, said Ross Arsenault, co-founder and COO. The smart buoys were tested on 10 pot trawls.
“There will be quite a few things we will be looking for,” Arsenault explained. “Initially throwing it off and seeing it deploys properly and retrieving it. We will be trying it at different depths and different pressures and different durations of time. We want to simulate real conditions as much as possible.”
On-deck handling, does it work in the hauler, does it spool on properly, how does it shoot out with a trawl and does it add a lot of steps to the trap-setting process were some of the other factors being looked at during testing, said Poole.
“This is our first kick at the can in the ocean so hopefully we learn a lot from that and then I’m sure there will be many more tests over the coming months, full-blown application testing in real world situations,” he said.
A plotting system called Atlas has been developed by Ashored Innovations to keep track of the ropeless fishing gear, said Poole.
“Each trap is tagged with a wireless tag that is scanned as the trap shoots off the boat. At that moment the GPS location is recorded and uploaded to a cloud server so is constantly live,” he said. “It automatically detects what was a trawl, what was a single gear and it maps that point to a google maps kinda idea. Right now, we’re just setting it up for testing purposes to use with computers, laptops, iPhones, whatever you have on deck. Eventually we’ll have it so it’s right into your plotter system or whatever you have on board.”
The system will only be accessible when out on the fishing grounds, said Poole. When fishermen go to set gear and want to see if anybody is there with ropeless gear, they will have to make a request and the system pings it and only pings gear in a radius of what can normally be seen on the horizon.
DFO will have the ability of checking for ropeless gear the same as others but they have to be out and about, said Poole.
Arsenault said they have learned a lot from months of talking with fishermen.
“We’re going into this with pretty good confidence,” he said. “Heading into it, we’re taking into account a lot of the variables we’ve heard are important to fishermen.”
“We really rely on the knowledge of the fishermen,” he added, on such things as what kind of weird scenarios they can find themselves in. “If we can leverage their knowledge and get their opinions throughout the process, it will really help in what may need to change before (going to) market in the next year.”
Arsenault said the goal is to have the smart buoy on the market in late 2019. It is being developed for both the lobster and crab fisheries.
READ MORE OF OUR 2018 LOBSTER OUTLOOK STORIES: