Roughly a fifth of the world’s people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and global demand for seafood is increasing. As the global population expands, sustainable ocean management becomes increasingly important.
World fish stocks are dwindling, with widespread overfishing and bycatch significant challenges. In its World Review of Fisheries And Aquaculture (2012), the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that between eight and 25 percent of the total fisheries catch worldwide is discarded, amounting to a staggering 27 million tons [nearly 24.5 million tonnes] per year.
International NGO Oceana estimates that the cost of discarded fish is around US$1 billion a year and that it represents a real threat to this important food source.
With increasing regulatory pressure on fishing crews to mitigate for bycatch, avoiding catching fish you don’t want is a big issue. Moreover, minimising bycatch means more space on board for profitable species, assuring operators of the highest possible ROI per trip.
Regulatory reform and fisheries management are important in encouraging (and if necessary, enforcing) sustainable use of the world’s ocean resources. But external controls are only one part of the solution.
Equipment and technology that help the commercial fishing industry meet the stricter regulations coming into force also have a key role to play in ensuring a sustainable future for the industry.
Which is why the new SafetyNet could be a lifesaver for commercial fishing operators worldwide – and for the 20 percent of the world’s people who depend on fish to survive.
SafetyNet: a bright idea
With growing demand for seafood comes growing pressure on world fish supplies. Not surprisingly, fishing operators are trawling the oceans with ever-bigger nets – often resulting in significant bycatch and overfishing.
Mechanical engineer turned product designer Dan Watson, founder and CEO of UK-based start-up SafetyNet Technologies, was introduced to the issue of overfishing while studying in Glasgow.
He rounded up a couple of fellow wunderkinds and set to work developing a new net design that would enable commercial trawler operators to fish more selectively.
In the course of his research, Watson came up with the bright idea of using light to attract or repel fish of different sizes and species.
“We have devices known as ‘escape rings’,” he explained to CNN’s Make, Create, Innovate in late 2015. “We initially came up with the idea of the ring so that it would hold the meshes open. And we included the lights in there to try and draw the fishes’ attention to those holes. And … actually, the light has turned out to be the really important part of the process.”
How does it work?
“Different species of fish see different wavelengths in different ways,” noted Watson. More importantly, fish species’ behavioural responses to lights of differing colours, patterns and intensity vary widely, he said.
Hence, light of a particular wavelength (hence, colour), pattern or intensity might attract fish of one species but repel those of another.
“If you have a light that can attract a particular species and inherently be selective in its approach, you can use it anywhere,” he said. “You can put it in a fishing pot, and then the fish essentially come to you. And you can do this repeatedly.”
Watson and his co-developers have been testing varying light configurations, changing the colour, pattern and intensity and using the results to amass a database that helps them to ascertain how particular species of fish react to specific configurations.
Gradually, they’re building useful configurations into the technology that guides the lighting system on the SafetyNet.
The prototype SafetyNets span different geometries and sizes, and can be fitted to any kind of fish capture equipment. Most have a degree of programmability, allowing specifications such as emitted wavelength, flash-rate and intensity of light to be set by the user.
Potentially, this will enable commercial (and smaller) fishing trawlers to ‘precision fish’, making it possible, not only to meet species and bycatch regulations but to maximise high-value, marketable species.
“We’d like a fisherman to be able to say, ‘I’m catching cod today but tomorrow I want to catch haddock – so I’ve fitted these devices to my net and this is what I’m aiming for now.
“So then they fit the lights, deploy them as they normally would, and the science and engineering take over and do the job for them.”
Trialling the new technology
With financial backing from the UK Government, SafetyNet Technologies is working with fisheries scientists, gear technologists and fishing operators to refine the technology, trialling various versions of the new nets on commercial trawlers in the North Sea.
Commercial fishing operators, aware that the future viability of the industry depends on making it sustainable, are jumping on board the project: several big trawler companies are helping to test the new ‘disco nets’, with more joining the project as word gets around.
Watson and his colleagues are analysing their catches and using the resulting data to fine-tune the net design and lighting configurations.
The company aims to commercialise the useful outcomes of the research as soon as possible – Watson hopes to see the first fully operational SafetyNets used commercially on trawlers by the end of 2016.
For more information, contact SafetyNet Technologies via firstname.lastname@example.org.