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.