‘Gear like traps and nets are designed to fish,’ said Blue Ocean Gear CEO and founder Kortney Opshaug
‘They’re good at fishing, so when they’re lost in the ocean they just keep fishing and anything that’s captured and doesn’t survive becomes bait for more marine life. It’s a horrible cycle and the impact of ghost fishing is staggering,’ she said.
Blue Ocean Gear’s aim is to help address ghost fishing. Working with commercial fishermen to understand how they operate and what they need, the company came up with the idea of tracking lost fishing gear to help reduce the amount of time and fuel fishermen spend retrieving and resetting their traps, lines or nets. The idea is that if gear can be tracked, not only is it less likely to end up lost, but it can be quickly retrieved.
‘Our central goal is to help fishermen fish more, and fish more sustainably,’ said Peter Macy, chief business officer at Blue Ocean Gear. ‘Reducing ghost gear is a benefit but really our product is about making the day-to-day job of our customers easier, helping them improve their return on investment in fuel and equipment and improving the quality of life of their crews through fewer, more productive hours on the water.’
Blue Ocean Gear has launched a smart buoy to easily monitor lost gear. Fitted with GPS and other sensors, the buoy is an IoT device that remains on the surface of the water and is compatible with all types and configurations of static fishing gear.
Sensor data, including the gear’s position, are transmitted to the cloud while fishermen can use a mobile app or a website to find out not just where their gear is but also other information on what’s going on in the water.
‘There may be a trap at the bottom of the ocean and a buoy at the surface, but when the tides and currents are strong, the buoy gets pulled underwater, fishermen will go out to harvest but can’t find it. In this sense, they have wasted a lot of fuel. But our device can track such gear from the surface so fishermen know when it’s possible to harvest. It’s particularly applicable in areas where conditions are rough,’ he said.
Blue Ocean Gear’s technology has been successfully trialled in open ocean trap fisheries in the Bering Sea and in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as Massachusetts and California.
In 2021 the company is expanding its markets to longline and gill net fisheries as well as several artisanal fisheries in the Caribbean and South Pacific. Blue Ocean Gear has also launched pilots with two aquaculture farms. Feedback has been positive and the team is aiming to maximise the device’s usefulness.
‘What’s been most fascinating is hearing fishermen’s ideas on how they want to use our technology for their particular operations,’ Kortney Opshaug said.
‘Some might have more issues with weather and finding their gear. Others might have a lot of boat traffic in the areas they fish in and their gear gets entangled with trawlers. Our technology helps with all of these because it’s been designed with fishermen. We conducted a lot of trials with fishermen to learn what would work for them and it’s really paying off.’
In addition to tracking location, Blue Ocean Gear’s sensor package can also notify fishermen when their gear has been dragged under, caught by a trawler or entangled by a whale. Work is also underway to investigate the possibility of gear theft and whether gear is being poached.
Such events would affect the response of a fishing vessel and potentially enable fishermen to play a part in other missions such as rescuing marine mammals. There are hopes that the tracking buoy could also contribute to other aspects of fishing, including fisheries management.
Kortney Opshaug and Peter Macy believe that spreading the word and expanding their reach will enable more fishermen to adopt their buoys. With organisations such as the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and the Marine Stewardship Council prioritising ghost gear on their new charters, and an increasing regulatory focus from many national governments, there is more focus on lost fishing gear but getting the device in fishermen’s hands is key.
‘Initially there is a little bit of hesitancy, with fishermen seeing the buoy as an expensive piece of technology utilised across all of their deployed fishing gear,’ Peter Macy explained.
‘But we’ve found that once fishermen start using it, they quickly recognise its value. The key to getting our technology rolled out broadly is to help fishermen understand its day-to-day operational value. If they can see that it saves them 10% or more everyday in terms of the time and fuel they spend looking for gear, it’s a compelling investment.’