HomeTechnologyAshored Innovations Addresses Ropeless Issues and Plans for the Future

Ashored Innovations Addresses Ropeless Issues and Plans for the Future

Stephen Jones of Ashored Innovations, a Bedford, Nova Scotia-based ropeless fishing gear company, addressed some of the concerns fishers have with rope on-command gear and discussed the company’s future plans.

Jones serves as Ashored Innovation’s Chief Business Development Officer. The company, which was founded in 2018, specializes in creating ropeless fishing gear. Ashored’s traps, known as Modular Ocean Based Instruments (MOBIs), sit on the bottom of the ocean and lack a vertical rope and buoy. Instead, the gear’s line and buoy remain on the ocean floor until it is released to the surface with an acoustic signal. This was designed to avoid whale entanglements and allow harvesters to fish in areas that have experienced closures due to whale sightings.

Ashored Innovations’ Modular Based Ocean Instrument (MOBI) has undergone or will undergo a series of design tweaks following a fishing trial conducted by the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI), which has allowed it to operate at lower depths and be more visible on the surface of the water. photos supplied by Ashored Innovations

The only problem is that fish harvesters have experienced problems with the gear as opposed to more traditional means. These issues were noted and often remedied during a gear trial supported by the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI) in Newfoundland and Labrador.

One issue frequently mentioned by crab harvesters during the CCFI gear trial was the inability to stack Ashored’s units the same way one would store a crab pot due to both its weight and rectangular shape. According to Jones, one solution in adapting to the heft that the MOBI units possess is fishing in a trawl formation as opposed to a single trap or pot. Another, he said, is creating a new technological solution that allows crab pots to act like their MOBI units.

“It’s far more advantageous to fish in a trawl formation instead of a single pot, because if you’re fishing in a trawl, you only need one on each end as opposed to one-to-one,” said Jones. “In the near term, I don’t think we have an answer to that. But I can envision a system being produced that somehow, some way actually goes inside the crab trap that they already have.”

Another issue that MOBI units encountered was identification. According to the CCFI report on Ashored’s product, “Harvesters showed concerns when it came to locating their pods if there were no highflyers to indicate where they had set their traps, as well as identify buoys once they surface.”

According to Jones, this issue is being addressed by Ashored Innovations through a research grant from the Research Council of Canada. The research phase of this project will conclude in March, with commercialization of the product expected in summer 2024.

“It’s a smart LED beacon buoy. There will be a light attached to it and it will be visible in the dark, in the fog and it will be large. It’s a variable-density one, so it’s compact when it’s down low and as it gets up to the surface, it gets bigger in size. It will also be solar-powered,” said Jones.

At $9,000 for a “ropeless starter pack” and $2,500 for each MOBI unit, gear from Ashored Innovations comes with a hefty price tag. For some harvesters, going ropeless may come down to getting around its cost-prohibitive nature. Jones said that as ropeless gear becomes more commonplace, especially in areas where the endangered North Atlantic right whale is frequently spotted, the government will come up with funding to offset the cost to harvesters.

On Ashored’s side, Jones said the company needs to find a way to get away from government subsidies.

“I want to get to the point where fishermen don’t have to pay anything for the gear. I want to give it away for free and for them to get paid more per pound because they’re using ropeless,” said Jones. “I know that may sound farfetched, but it’s not really farfetched. There’s a lot of pressure in the States at the moment from various consumer watch groups that have red-listed crab and lobster fisheries because of ghost gear, bycatch, entanglement — the list goes on and on. That’s got the attention of a lot of seafood retailers. Those retailers are now buying our gear to give to fishermen that are supplying them crab and lobster.”

While the business model to achieve Jones’ goal might be far off, he believes that retailers will be incentivized to act as new regulations come forth in the coming years. In the near term, he said that Ashored is considering gear rental as a way to offset some costs to harvesters.

“We’ll deliver them at the start of the season, and we’ll pick them up at the end of the season,” said Jones. “They just pay a monthly fee to rent those units, and when we bring them back, we’ll reuse them for another fishing association that has a season in a different time period. The cost will be minimal. There will be some cost to get the gear that the boat is going to need in terms of the deck box, the hydrophone and the software, but in terms of fishermen saying they’re going to need $100,000 to outfit my license of 350 — I think there’s creative ways that we can get around that, at least for the next couple of years until policies sort themselves out.”