Big fish join Nova Scotia startup’s quest for non-contact trawling
A small start-up in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia hopes to take the “soil” out of groundfish trawling with a more efficient and environmentally friendly trawling system it says will eliminate bottom contact the ocean and will use unmanned surface drones to find fish.
“This project aims to reduce time at sea for fishermen, which is better for fishermen and the industry, but also good for the environment,” said Marc d’Entremont, CEO of Katchi Technology. “It’s sustainable and we don’t disturb the bottom habitat.”
The company aims to replace the heavy steel plates, known as trawl doors, released from the back of a fishing boat that drag along the ocean floor to spread the net.
Instead, specially shaped hydrodynamic blocks attached to the top and bottom of the net will open when the water hits them.
Sensors on the nets and the vessel will direct the winches to reel in and reel out the cable to control the depth of the net, allowing trawling anywhere in the water column.
“What we’re trying to do is take the trawl doors out of the existing trawling equipment and have that net fly over the seabed and avoid obstacles as you pull it through the water. “, d’Entremont said.
Unmanned Surface Vessels, or USVs, equipped with fish finders would be deployed and retrieved from a fishing boat or sent ahead to the fishing grounds.
Eventually, a fleet of drones could be sent to an area, broadcasting data in real time.
About half of the money for the $3.3 million ‘precision fishing project’ comes from the federal government Ocean Supercluster innovation fund. The rest comes from private sector partners.
The project should last 18 months.
Katchi will test the first prototype net aboard the Scotia Harvest trawler Lery Charles in September.
Scotia Harvest – a Mersey Seafoods business – is one of the partners, which also includes Canadian shellfish giant Clearwater and Dartmouth-based Rimot, which makes remote monitoring devices.
Engineering and manufacturing company ABCO Industries will design, test and build the USV. The first is expected to hit the water in about a year.
“What we’re looking at doing is integrating the kinds of sensors that will allow you to differentiate between different species on board the USV,” said Colin Ross, director of research and development at ABCO.
“The idea is that it can actually go out and identify the target species and then look at the distribution of the amount of the target species relative to [non-target] bycatch and then allow you to use that information to actually target your fishing operation accordingly.”
The company says the cost of its trawl will be comparable to existing gear – around $150,000 on a 65ft vessel – but will be cheaper in the long run by reducing repairs, fuel costs and time – which equals less pollution.
Katchi’s chief financial officer, Angie Greene, an accountant and daughter of a fisherman, says the fishing industry will want proof that it works and is affordable.
“They want to hear that there is less downtime for repairs and maintenance. It fits on their drum. They don’t need to dry-dock their vessel to fit new gear , that it’s not more expensive, that it fishes and it catches fish, that it saves them fuel and that it’s safer for their crew because there are no steel doors of 6,000 pounds swinging when the net goes up,” Greene said.
“Gathering and Deterrence Technology”
The project is also looking at the use of so-called ‘gather and deter’ technology through devices that emit sound and light from the nets themselves.
“The idea would be that you could potentially attract or deter your target species from your fishing area. And that’s one of the really exciting technologies that the team is exploring through this project,” Ross said.
A real test of all this will likely involve the expansion of the redfish fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. the the redfish population is exploding there but it shares the same space as the white hake, a species in great difficulty.
More pelagic fishing and trawling would give fishing companies, like Scotia Harvest, which holds a redfish quota, more finesse in harvesting.
“So you’ll be able to more precisely target the water column where the fish are and hopefully where they’re not,” d’Entremont said.
Today, the company occupies shared space in a tech incubator office on Yarmouth’s Main Street.
But he has big ambitions.
” The market ? Our pond is southwest of Nova. But as soon as we can make sure those fishermen are happy with our product, we’re looking at a global market,” Greene said.