Into fifth gear
Research into more effective and sustainable fishing gear is on the increase. Adrian Tatum explores some of the reasons why.
The development of fishing gear is and always will be a complex task. Hours of research, many detailed designs, numerous prototypes and days of testing are needed before a potential solution can be found.
But the pace of development has increased over the last few years as the need for fishermen to become more efficient and more sustainable in their approach to fishing has intensified.
New research has identified that just simply banning fishing in marine protected areas is not enough to save the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. Ray Hilborn, a fisheries professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic fisheries, argues that working with the fishing industry to modify what types of gear are used and when and where different species are allowed to be caught can make more of a difference than establishing new marine protected areas.
“In Alaska, for example, more than 50% of the continental shelf waters are closed to specific kinds of fishing gear and the entire shelf is covered by species-specific catch restrictions,” he says in a report. “This is much more protection than could be offered by turning 30% of the region into MPAs.”
Also, recent changes to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), for example, has put more emphasis on bycatch laws and in-turn, fishermen have had to look for alternative methods, equipment and products to help with progress in this area.
But as expected, every country has its own different challenges. This year in Spain there has been in debate in Galicia with regards to the use of the region’s traditional fishing gear known as Xeito. The European Commission originally called for a possible exclusion of the gear in EU waters but is now considering a ‘u-turn’ on the decision to allow Xeito to be accepted at ‘community levels’ in accordance with EU regulations. The Galician Parliament responded by providing detailed scientific and technical studies to provide the necessary evidence for the use of Xeito to continue.
Further afield, in Mexico, plans have been implemented to use a fish excluder device (FED) to help fishermen avoid the incidental catch of non-targeted species and other wildlife such as turtles (for which there is a specific product). This forms part of overall plans to design and implement more conservation measures for its fisheries resources and marine ecosystems.
In the UK, significant developments have taken place over the last year. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) has created the Gear Innovation and Technology Advisory Group (GITAG) through funding obtained from Marine Scotland via its wholly owned subsidiary company, SFF Services. The aim of the group is to develop and test innovative fishing gear to help Scottish fishermen reduce the amount of discards and other challenges that have arisen from changes to the CFP.
According to the SFF, GITAG is working to foster flexible working partnerships between active fishermen, industry and public bodies, gear technologists and science; aimed at scoping and contracting projects, trialling innovations to existing gear categories, piloting new gear configurations and types with associated data collection and appropriate scientific analysis. The group is also responsible for the industry-wide dissemination of project-related knowledge, research results and best practice, recommending a suite of evaluated gear.
There are four approved applications in the first stage of the GITAG project.The projects cover a range of inovations from completely new net designs to changes to more familiar gears. There is also a fifth project which is also being developed on the West Coast to look at using short sweeps. The gear being tested is fully funded and there are derogagtions for days and quota where appplicable as well as a seven day charter to observe and report on the gear.
Jennifer Mouat, industry consultant and project manager for GITAG told WF&A that three trials have taken place already including a focus on modifications to a square mesh panel design, a modified letterbox trawl incorporating 200mm bobbins and 200 square mesh panel and a separator net wit the aim of achieving separation of nephrops from fish (bycatch) by using an inclined square mesh panel of 200mm (mesh size). This connects with 80mm diamond mesh netting which provides the continued separation (and possibly selectivity) of nephrops and fish.
She said that results from the first trials were varied but encouraging according to GITAG. Phase two of the project will look to include a wide range of vessels, gears and geographic and seasonal variations.
Also, trials using a new design of prawn trawl developed to reduce unwanted bycatches of fish have produced encouraging results.
The prototype trawl, developed by skipper Jimmy Buchan and netmaker Mark Buchan of Jackson Trawls, is part of the GITAG project as well. It was reported that initial fishing trials with the new trawl on the fishing vessel Amity II resulted in a significant drop in the amount of unwanted whitefish retained without any reduction in the prawn (langoustine) catch. Furthermore, the quality of the prawns was noticeably better compared with those caught in traditional trawls.
The new design features an inclined panel that separates fish from the prawns within the trawl. The fish are directed upwards, with many escaping through large meshes in the top part of the net, while the prawn catch is retained in the bottom section of the trawl. The whitefish, which remain in the net, are covered by the boat’s fish quota for the mixed fishery, keeping discards down to a minimum.
Another impressive project to come out of the UK is the Pembrokeshire Sustainable Shellfish Pilot Initiative, which is being funded by Welsh Government’s Sustainable Development Fund.
It aims to raise awareness and understanding amongst the fishing industry and coastal managers of the environmental and economic issues associated with ghost fishing of static gear, and of voluntary measures to improve fishing sustainability. By introducing a series of voluntary measures such as gear tagging, biodegradable hooks, escape hatches and v-notching lobsters, as well as educating fishermen, the project aims to demonstrate that it is possible to improve the sustainability of static fishing gear off the Pembrokeshire Coast.
In the US, research by fishermen operating in the Gulf of Maine region using automatic jigging machines have identified potential for such technology to help reduce bycatch. As part of a project involving the Nature Conservancy, fishermen have been loaned the machines to allow them to more accurately target the water occupied by pollock and stay away from the bottom where cod are found.
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