Thursday, November 5, 2015

Ultra-low Opening Trawl (ULOT): The search for a trawl that avoids cod and catches flatfish is underway!

I’ve been in a lot of rooms lately with fishermen and scientists and let’s just say the mood has generally been on the contentious side.   In some cases things have gotten ugly and conflicts have slipped into the hopeless and counterproductive area of personal attacks.   These meetings have been about what’s going on under the water – how are fish stocks faring right now and what can amount of sustainable fish can we expect from the Gulf of Maine today and into the future.  Both sides are looking at the same problem, but there’s a serious and problematic divide in perspective between fishermen and scientists and managers.   

Gloucester fisherman Tom Testeverde discusses net design with Dr. Pingguo He 
That’s what makes last week’s meeting at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Headquarters in Boston so unique and important.    Fishermen, net manufacturers, scientists and outreach specialists all joined in a discussion – sharing their knowledge, listening to each other and carefully looking at the same problem in front of them:  How can we design fishing gear that can avoid cod while still catching enough flatfish for fishermen to make a living.  

For 6 hours, the group discussed both conventional and out-of-the-box ideas attaching the problem.  On this day, the rigor, focus and skepticism of the scientist was combined with the experience and depth of knowledge of the fishermen – a powerful combination that must be realized more broadly if we are to have more success managing our fisheries. 

Testing of the new trawl design will take place this winter in 
St. John's Newfoundland at the Marine Institute 
The meeting is part of a project funded by The Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program and is co-led by Steve Eayrs from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Mike Pol from Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.  Also joining the discussion were Dr. Pingguo He from the UMass Dartmouth, Jon Knight from Superior Trawl in Point Judith, RI, Dr. Chris Glass from the Northeast Consortium at the University of New Hampshire, Dr. Paul Winger and Tara Perry from the Marine Institute in Newfoundland, along with Massachusetts fishermen Tom Testeverde and Dan Murphy and NH fishermen Jim Ford, Carl Bouchard and David Goethel.

The project is called ULOT or “Ultra-low opening trawl’ for the basic concept that has brought this group together; a trawl that fishes for flounder ‘below’ the level that cod are found.  Not an easy task with all sorts of challenges for a net manufacturer to build and a fisherman to fish.  While this is the initial concept, the project leads are ready to ‘push the boundaries’ and to think of something entirely new to try.  The discussion meandered over some interesting concepts from using a topless trawl with seldom-before used headline to footline ratio of 2:1, to low opening nets less than 2’ high to combining these modifications with strategically placed restraining ropes or large mesh  to strategic placement of dark or light netting or even lasers to that would lead fish either toward their escape or capture in the net.

ULOT project co-leads Mike Pol (left) and Steve Eayrs (right) join
Dr. Paul Winger and Jon Knight (center, left to right) in Boston

The goal for the day was to come up with a handful of concepts to develop further.  Eventually, the discussion will converge on one or two ideas that will move to the project’s next phase that will include computer simulations, followed by production of a scale model to be tested in the fishing gear flume tank at the Marine Institute in St. John’s Newfoundland this winter.  In late winter, a full-scale design will be produced and testing under true fishing conditions here in the Gulf of Maine will begin next spring.  An ambitious schedule, but I could see that this group was ready for the challenge.  Stay tuned for project updates!

                   -  Dr. Erik Chapman - UNH

 for more information on this project, contact Steve Eayrs <> or Mike Pol <>

Thursday, November 6, 2014

2014 WWF Smart Gear competition wraps up in Newfoundland

Written by Steve Eayrs - Research Scientist at The Gulf of Maine Research Institute 

Recently I had the pleasure of spending two days in St John’s, Newfoundland, helping to judge entries in the 2014 WWF International Smart Gear competition. Held every few years, this competition seeks to encourage fishermen, scientists, and others from around the world to develop fishing gear that reduces fisheries bycatch in commercial or recreational fisheries. The competition provides a financial prize of $30,000 to the winning entry and $10,000 to two runner-up entries, as well as recognition of winning an international competition judged by a panel of fishing technology experts from around the world. This year, two additional prizes of $7,500 were available, one to entries that addressed bycatch in tuna fisheries and another to entries that addressed marine mammal bycatch in gillnet fisheries.

While I am unable to divulge too much information about the entries (winning entries will be formally announced in November) I can I can say they were received from across the globe including, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Uruguay, Kenya, Finland, Norway, United Kingdom, and the USA. The entries presented ideas, concepts, and results in bycatch reduction research using a variety of fishing gears, some common to US fisheries, including trawls, gillnets, pots and traps, plus some less common including set nets and purse seines. Many entries were aimed at tackling the bycatch of teleost species, although sharks, mammals, and sea turtles also featured prominently. The criteria for judging the entries was based on innovation, bycatch reduction, maintenance of target catch, overall conservation impact, and practicality/cost-effectiveness.  
Especially noteworthy this year was an entry from a Middle school student in New Jersey. While the competition’s age limitation precluded consideration of this entry, it was noteworthy because it was received from a school student. The entry was also highly encouraging because the student had prepared a very thoughtful competition entry to address a specific bycatch issue and it demonstrated a surprising breadth of knowledge of fisheries issues.

The Eliminator Trawl - 2007 Smart Gear Competition Winner.  Targets haddock while avoiding other species such as cod and flounder.  Designed by Jon Knight of Superior Trawl - Narragansett, Rhode Island

This year, competition judging was hosted by Memorial Institute in St. John’s, Newfoundland. This institute is noteworthy for the only flume tank in North America – a facility used to test scale model fishing gear – which has been used for many years by US fishermen to test and develop fishing gear. GEARNET took advantage of this facility a few years back by funding over 20 fishermen and others from New England to attend a one-week training course on fishing gear design, selectivity, and energy conservation. As we have come to know only too well, staff from the institute were incredibly warm and hospitable, and for the duration of our visit they generously contributed to many of the meeting costs.
Unfortunately, while this competition is incredibly well known across the globe and is providing a very real and meaningful contribution to bycatch reduction, there is no guarantee it will continue in the future. Funding for the competition from existing sources is becoming ever more challenging, and limited options to source funds from elsewhere could result in its demise. This would be an incredibly sad outcome for a unique competition, especially when bycatch remains such a significant problem in fisheries around the world. Hopefully, this will not become a reality.
Steve Eayrs

The judging panel consists of twelve experts in fishing technology from around the world, including USA, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, and Norway.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

GEARNET's Bottom-up Approach Paying Dividends

A floating cod pot serves as a backdrop for a reflection on the 'GEARNET experience'

Surrounded by gear and project results posters from GEARNET projects, around 30 attendees gathered last weekend with GEARNET project leaders at the Maine Fishermen's Forum to hear an overview of results from the 35 GEARNET projects that have been developed since 2010.   Details on gillnet results were also presented followed by a discussion on lessons-learned and overall contribution of the project more broadly to efforts to improve and support the fishing industry's capacity to adapt to a changing world.

It was during this part of the program, a sort of round-table review of the 'GEARNET experience', when some of the most compelling discussion took place.
Several attendees commented on the positive impression the project has made with fishermen who have traditionally steered clear of collaborative research.  This feedback confirms an emerging realization of some of the most important contributions of the project:  The bottom-up approach works.  By initiating projects on the dock and supporting ideas that begin on the water, GEARNET has tapped in to the potential of broad industry involvement and engagement by beginning, developing, executing, and synthesizing results based in a network of fishermen, gear manufacturers, scientists and managers.

Adam Baukus, gear scientist from GMRI added, "The GEARNET model also seems to be an improvement from the way things used to be done by being able to respond quickly to challenges fishermen are facing today."  Prior to GEARNET, ideas for gear research often began in the office of a gear scientists to be developed into a proposal that might be funded 6 months to a year later.  Results might be available well over a year afterwards, and would be presented in a journal article that may never be read by a fisherman.

That is not to say that the GEARNET model is perfect, and certainly there are lessons to be learned moving forward - but initial feedback seems to point toward strong signals of success and growing interest and value in the GEARNET, bottom-up approach for collaborative research.

This was the first of a series of port-side meetings scheduled throughout the region over the next month and a half to discuss GEARNET results.

 To schedule a meeting, fishermen are encouraged to look over the following 'menu' of topics and to contact Erik Chapman at NH Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension to find out the meeting schedule or to schedule a meeting:

Monday, January 13, 2014

What They're Saying About GEARNET

As we pull together our project final reports (to be posted at in February 2014), it's exciting for us to gather personal accounts of fishermen's experiences during GEARNET projects. Here are some examples:
Dan and one of his semi-pelagic doors
"I would like to express my gratitude to be involved with this project.  I have always wanted to try a net with smaller diameter twine, but the high cost of buying one deterred me.  I knew the net would tow easier and there would be fuel savings, but didn't know how much savings.  I am amazed with the results.  I am towing a larger net easier with less fuel consumption and with an increase in my catch.  The new net coupled with the Flow Scan really gave me assurance that efficiency and savings are really there.  I wanted to take a step farther so I purchased a set of Semi-Pelagic Doors.  With the help of GEARNET and the Walker Foundation, I was able to get a rebate to help pay for the doors.  The new doors are Fantastic!  Right away I gained over 1/2 knot of towing speed.  With my old gear I had to push the engine to get 2.8kts,  but now I can tow over 3kts.  This was a very educational project and will be interesting what the savings will be over time.    

Thank Again for this Great Opportunity."

Daniel Murphy
F/V Bantry Bay

Project - Explore fuel savings using smaller diameter twine and a loan program to help interested fishermen transition to using semi-pelagic trawl doors that save fuel and reduce sea-bed impacts:


Jayson Driscoll (right) aboard F/V Sweet Misery (photo - Sara Van Horne)
"I think we may have built a net that can target an underutilized fish while allowing a weaker species to rebound"

Jason Driscoll 
F/V Sweet Misery

Project - NH Sector XI - explore the use of gillnets raised off the sea-bed to reduce catches of Atlantic cod while maintaining catches of more abundant, marketable fish.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Schedule a dockside meeting to discuss GEARNET project results!

Have you heard about some results from a GEARNET or related project that you'd like to hear more about or that you think others would be interested in?  Then schedule a dock-side meeting and we'll show up with the right people to discuss them with you.  Raised gillnets, LED pingers, cod pots, topless trawls, semi-pelagic doors, modified net materials that can reduce
fuel consumption are just a few of the topics we can please don't wait - give me a call or email  (Erik Chapman - 603-583-3430/ and we can schedule something in your neck of the woods....We're looking to schedule meetings from Maine to Rhode Island between January and March, 2014.....

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

GEARNET Demonstrates Innovative Fishing Gear at the New Bedford Waterfront Festival

New Bedford, the once great whaling capital, hosts one of the region's best Waterfront Festivals
GEARNET scientists, fishermen, and net builders teamed up with scientists from the Fisheries and Marine Institute in Newfoundland, Canada to demonstrate fishing gear in a small-scale (but still very large!) flume tank at the New Bedford Waterfront Festival.  This was a follow-up to a GEARNET sponsored trip made one year ago by over 20 regional groundfishermen to visit the full-scale flume tank in Newfoundland, where scientists come from all over the world to test and design new gear designs.   Both flume tanks offer gear scientists and fishermen the unique opportunity to view how gear behaves in water as water circulates through the tank and flat material moves along the bottom of the tank simulating towing conditions as accurately as possible.
The 'smaller' flume tank in action in New Bedford

 Model nets are constructed and tested in the tanks as a critical step in net design and manufacturing.  These flume tanks have been used in the development of countless new gears that have reduced bycatch and otherwise helped answered many critical challenges faced by fishermen and managers.

The 'Elminator Trawl', a net designed to reduce bycatch
in the haddock fishery, is shown in the tank.
Over the course of the 2-day festival in New Bedford, 9  fishing gears were demonstrated, engaging fishermen discussions with GEARNET scientists around net design and giving them an opportunity to show their families and friends a bit more about what they do on the water.

Demonstrated gears included several being tested in GEARNET-related projects, including semi-pelagic doors designed to raise gears off the bottom, reducing bottom impacts while reducing fuel costs and a small-diameter haddock trawl with large-mesh panels on the top of the net that reduced bycatch.

However, the scallop dredge was a favorite with the local crowd as the festival was held dead-center in the middle of the nation's thriving scallop industry.

New Bedford scallopers watch a scallop dredge and discuss how a turtle-avoiding dredge works.
 On Sunday, GEARNET net builder and Principle Investigator, Jon Knight of Superior Trawl in Rhode Island  demonstrated a break-bag design.  The break-bag is a less-expensive alternative to a net sensor that triggers a release mechanism that closes a trawl opening when the cod-end is filled to a desired level.   The mechanism is not currently being used, but has the potential to be modified and tailored as needed to a range of fisheries.

The Break-bag design attracts a crowd
The tank provides a unique opportunity for folks who rarely have the opportunity to see or discuss fishing gear and how they are often designed  to reduce their impacts on habitat while catching abundant species.  Thanks to our colleagues at the Fisheries and Marine Institute, Paul Winger, Tara Perry and Craig Hollet and Tor Bendiksen from Reidar Manufacturing in Fairhaven, MA for helping to make this happen!
Jon Knight points to gear in the flume tank to a 'captured' audience.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Can Gillnets Raised Off The Sea-bed Keep Fishermen on the Water?

With cuts in cod quota, fishermen are showing their typical innovation to come up with new ways to avoid cod while continuing to catch species they continue to fish - and fish sustainably.  Most gear selectivity work has focused on modifying trawl gear - but why not work with gillnets?  That's just what fishermen in NH, Port Clyde and elsewhere suspected and with the help of GEARNET, they've started looking at a few different ideas on the water...

Jayson Driscoll (FV Sweet Misery, Rye, NH) has been working with the experimental gillnets
Beginning in the next few weeks, New Hampshire gillnet fishermen will be testing the effectiveness of gillnets raised 4’ off the bottom to reduce the catch of cod while maintaining a profitable catch of other, more abundant, species. These nets have shown promise for doing just that, and testing this year will expand the test-nets to more realistic conditions.

Two test nets have been constructed, each with five experimental 300’ strings raised 4’ off the sea-bed and five 300’ standard strings not raised off the seabed.  

The New Hampshire fishermen will share the experimental gear within New Hampshire’s Groundfish Sectors XI and XII during the experiment.  The fishermen are waiting for the fall, when greater numbers of fish should be around to test the relative selectivity of the standard and experimental nets.  

This project is paired with a similar effort out of Port Clyde, ME that also will be testing the alternative gillnet design.

It’s certainly been a busy and challenging fishing season, but these, and other projects offer a glimpse of the innovative and resilient spirit that is echoed throughout the Northeast.   Return here to track the progress of these and other GEARNET projects!