Full-scale trials are expected to begin this fall on a SmartNet trawl system that will utilize data collected by an uncrewed service vessel (USV) that could revolutionize conventional trawl fishing.
“The goal is to give the fishermen a better tool to assist catching fish, that is more efficient and is also aligning with what DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) wants to do with environmental issues with gear that is sustainable and that can achieve those goals well,” said Marc d’Entremont, founder and CEO of Katchi Technology in Yarmouth.
The grassroots company is the lead in the Ocean Supercluster Project, Precision Fish Harvesting.
D’Entremont is the fourth generation of his family to be involved in the fishing industry.
A former co-owner of his family’s business, Inshore Fisheries, Lower West Pubnico, his duties included managing the company’s three 65-foot trawlers, processing plant and Georges Bank quota.
“I did that for about eight years and came up with this idea and since left to pursue this idea,” said d’Entremont.
He has been working on his idea for about three years now. “The Ocean Supercluster Project started in January, so we only really got some funding and our feet under us in January and last summer when we got approved.”
The idea behind the SmartNet technology is that it eliminates the use of traditional trawl doors and uses a set of hydrodynamic blocks to open and fly the net at different levels in the water column, lessening the impact to the seabed floor and the ecosystem and enabling more selective fishing.
“The nets will have a similar weight that they do now with trawl doors comparatively. We will be adding weight to the bottom of the net, the bridles, things like that and the hydrodynamic blocks will be weighted and buoyed as well too. Once you pull those through the water, it will open and create that lateral lift that the trawl doors would, so cumulatively, all these hydrodynamic blocks will create the same lateral lift as the trawl doors,” explained d’Entremont.
“To control the net up and down the water column, we’re using the cable payouts so we’re basically going to automate the winches that already exist, configure them to be automatic and then sensors on the net to measure the height off the seabed. The cable payout sensors that information from the GPS and sounders and plugs it into this algorithm that will essentially gather all the information and will let the winches know the pay-in if you want to lift the net and payout of the net to go down.”
D’Entremont said the technology could be used in various fisheries. “A few of our clients are interested in shrimp, obviously groundfish, we’re hoping to skim right off that seabed but anything mid-water as well. It could be a solution to replace a lot of different fishing methods as well.”
Redfish is the first target fishery, said d’Entremont. “There is a pretty big challenge with bringing that net right down to the seabed, so it’s a good way to start our product because the redfish are not necessarily on the seabed, they are up and down the water column so it’s a good test for us, a good product for that fishery as well. Redfish move up and down the water column daily so you don’t have to switch out from bottom trawling to mid-water. You can just pay out more cable or less cable and catch the fish where it is in the water column so hopefully that will reduce bycatch because it targets those bodies of fish better.”
Initial testing on Katchi’s quarter-scale net is expected to start in May, said d’Entremont and then hopefully by September they will be doing full-scale trials on the MV Léry Charles, owned and operated by project partners Scotia Harvest Inc.
Hydroacoustic data collected by an uncrewed service vessel (USV) will guide fishing operations.
“What ABCO is responsible for is designing, building and ultimately testing an uncrewed service vessel,” said Colin Ross, director of research and development at ABCO Industries in Lunenburg, which is also involved in the collaborative project.
“It’s a very interesting project for ABCO to partner with someone like Katchi who are looking to advance the state of the commercial fisheries and the way they operate. I think it’s a really great opportunity and something we need to see in the future which is a more sustainable fishery so I think the project represents a really great step towards that and certainly is just the beginning.”
Ross said an USV is the marine equivalent of an aerial drone.
“The idea behind the technology (USV), it will be used ahead of a traditional trawler to help guide and optimize their fishing operations, scouting for the target fish populations they are looking for. One of the reasons ABCO is so interested in this technology is it’s an opportunity for us to leverage years of our experience manufacturing commercial vessel space and also to deliver a solution to some of Canada’s most important industries, that being the fishing industry and the marine manufacturing industry.”
The USV is at the conceptional design phase, said Ross. “We’re looking at a set of requirements from the potential customers and project partners. That’s one of the really important things for this type of solution is that we work with early adopters of the technology to make sure it does meet their requirements.”
The USV, which will likely be somewhere between the six to eight-metre size, could accompany larger vessels on fishing trips, said d’Entremont.
“The larger vessel would be controlling the USV and where it’s going but for the smaller fleet, we envision us, Katchi, operating the USV collecting general hydroacoustic data and selling that data to the fishermen via a subscription,” said d’Entremont.
“The goal is to have the USV stream a set of hydroacoustic data to a central location or a trawl vessel so the client can access it and then use that data to help make decisions, but ultimately at this stage it will just be streaming that data to show proof of concept for the USV operation,” said d’Entremont.
Ross said towards the end of June, ABCO anticipates starting the USV manufacturing process and then the target is to have a vessel in the water with all the necessary equipment, the control system, appropriate sensor payload and testing that in a proof-of-concept type of operation in January or February 2023.
ABCO has built USVs before said Ross.
“It’s sort of a niche market. We have been doing work with a customer and one of our strategic partners to design and build an uncrewed service vessel out of aluminum. They typically operate a fibreglass version of an uncrewed service vessel and what we did was take that design and translated into something that could be manufactured out of aluminum and we did this through another Ocean Supercluster project where we provided a 5.8-metre USV to a customer in that project.”
It is expected it will take 18 months to complete the project. “The plan is to have a good demo of the USV and a good demo of our system; a really proven concept for Katchi specifically. It will position us to start a commercialization process after that,” said d’Entremont.
With a total project value of nearly $3.3 million, the Ocean Supercluster will provide close to $1.6 million towards the project with the balance coming from project partners who also include Rimot (Halifax), Clearwater (Lunenburg), DSA Ocean (B.C.), Rising Tide Bioacoustics (Halifax), SafetyNet (Ireland) and MITACS (Halifax).