The final pieces are falling into place that will allow for ropeless fishing to be commercially utilized.
“We’ve been doing a lot of testing lately with partners and learning a lot,” says Ross Arsenault, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Halifax-based Ashored Innovations.
“We’re getting our gear into its more commercial ready form as we test a few more features that are necessary to get it into the hands of as many fishermen as possible.”
Ashored Innovations began developing its Rope on Command (ROC) fishing system in 2018. The system works with lobster and crab trap trawl lines.
Arsenault said over the past year there have been a few programs that have allowed for fishermen to be able to acquire gear for trials.
“This year, we have worked with five different groups. They’ve put them on a couple different vessels over the last few months,” said Arsenault. “We’ve learned a bunch of great things that makes the product stronger. We have good relationships with our customers, making sure they are always getting the newest features, sets and everything so we can consistently make sure it’s ready for broadscale use. We’re seeing it get to that point now. It’s really exciting.”
Arsenault said Ashored’s ROC system has been tested in the waters of the four Atlantic Canadian provinces, Québec, as well as in the U.S. While lobster has been the main test fishery, the ROC system has also been tested in the snow crab fishery.
“This year, we’ve been working with some of the other competitors in our space to make sure the overall industry is ready for the entry point of rope on command gear and that all the regulatory bases are covered. Gear inoperability is a thing we’re addressing so there’s a lot of great advances,” he said.
“General collaboration in the industry is quite great,” says Arsenault. “It means the overall solution to succeed and yes, we’re approaching it in a few different ways. There are some regulatory and gear tracking processes that need to have certain standardization so ROC fishing can identify gear from one competitor to another and be able to upload tracking to a single shareable database. Those are important features we’ve been working on this year and have a goal to do more testing on later in the fall.
“Once the ability for gear operability with our competitors is done, that really is the final barrier to allow for large-scale growth. So, at this time we’re encouraging sales and encouraging testing partners but we’re kind of in that phase where we’re learning as much as we can so next year, we can hit the ground running with something that is checking all of the boxes for ropeless fishing,” says Arsenault.
An amended clause to the fishing regulations that will allow for a buoy not be present on the surface and would allow for the buoy that is underwater to transmit the information that would be visible on the surface is also needed before ropeless fishing can be commercialized.
“That’s what we’re building into it, so the regulators have that one final piece of the puzzle to be able to have the same access as if seeing a buoy on the surface,” said Arsenault. “Additional but no less oversight.”
Arsenault said this is an important time for Ashored Innovations “to move fast and to make sure we are learning as much as possible to make sure in 2023, fishermen have a fully-ready solution that allows them to fish with a bare minimum number of barriers possible to be able to harvest in areas where they normally would that would otherwise be closed to fixed gear fishing.”
The Ashored ROC fishing system is activated via acoustics (or a backup timer) to the surface. Once the buoy and connecting rope rise to the surface, fishermen can use existing onboard equipment and processes to retrieve the gear and prepare it for redeployment.
Ashored’s ROC fishing systems include a rope containment and release module (MOBI) that also uses sensors to collect and transmit data to an onboard gear tracking system (ATLAS). ATLAS consists of Ashored’s ATLAS+ software and smart tagging to reduce gear loss and allow fishers to automate the tracking of gear and logging of catch information.