Seattle-based Puget Buoy is trying to bring cost-effective, fast, durable and compact ropeless fishing tech to the commercial fishery.
As one of many different sorts of ropeless fishing gear appearing on the market, Puget Buoy’s goals align with their contemporaries — in the age of fisheries closures due to whale safety, ropeless technologies seek to bypass closures by removing the vertical line and buoy that can possibly entangle passing whales.
“The demand for the technology, in a commercial capacity, is with these whale closures in specific zones or times of year where fishermen lose access to that specific zone or that time of year for commercial fishing,” said Puget Buoy CEO Dylan Diefendorf.
“This can be very disruptive to the industry. So, what regulators have said in California, and conversations are developing similarly in the New England fisheries, is that if fishermen use certified pop-up gear such as our devices, then they would be exempt from those closures.”
At $250 USD per unit, Puget Buoy is one of the most affordable of this family of gear on the market. Given the loss of revenue in closure areas, Diefendorf suggested that this initial input cost could be offset in a single season should harvesters be able to fish in areas or times of year that are normally off-limits.
The buoy you receive from Puget Buoy at this price only needs rope spooled around it, a commodity most fish harvesters have plenty of, and a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone.
“Using your phone or a smart device, you connect with the Puget Buoy by Bluetooth, like a pair of headphones. You then open our app — the Puget Buoy app — you then set a timer on when you would like it to resurface,” said Diefendorf. “Then, you deploy it in the water with the fishing or lobster gear, and then return at the pre-set time that you set in the app before you threw it in the water.”
The buoy, which sinks to the sea floor along with the trap attached to it, keeps the rope from extending to the surface until the set release time. When the buoy reaches its pre-set surface time, the rope unspools as the buoy rises at a rate of 5.6 feet per second.
Puget Buoy products are rated for a maximum depth of 1,000 feet, and the battery can last between 40–50 days.
Diefendorf says he is confident that the buoys can operate with an average total lifespan of around 10 years and that they’re working to increase their product’s capabilities wherever possible.
“In terms of lifespan of the battery, we are looking at about 47 days on a single charge… With some ongoing tweaking to the software and the electronics, we feel very confident we can get to a point where the batteries may last up to 90 days in the very near future. In terms of recharging time, we’re looking at a recharging time of eight to 10 hours.”
Puget Buoy products, unlike some ropeless gear, are relatively compact and easy to handle. At two feet by nine inches by nine inches and holding about 400 feet of 3/8-inch fishing line for their standard model, Diefendorf says the design saves space on vessels where every inch counts.
“That’s really important to have it be that size because it can be stored inside crabbing gear or lobster gear when the gear is not in use,” said Diefendorf. “There’s only so much space on deck for fishing gear, and let’s say if your pop-up gear device uses a box of rope, that may decrease the amount of pots you can have and use on your boat.”
Puget Buoys are also modular, and their standard design can be adapted for different fisheries.
“With our device, the size of the spool can be changed,” said Diefendorf. “The electronic section, the top section where the LED lights are, can go down to 1,000 feet without any issues so that we can offer this unit in any fisheries that operate in less than 1,000 feet of water.”
Making this product a reliable, well-known asset to the commercial fishery is still in progress, according to Diefendorf. On top of getting government regulators to allow for these types of ropeless pop-up gear, they have to prove to the industry that it works.
Currently, Puget Buoy is doing a pilot project with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to prove the efficacy of its product.
“We need to appease regulators, but even if we have regulatory authorization, it’s no guarantee commercial fishermen will buy the gear. It’s important that we get a large enough dataset to prove that this technology is reliable and can be counted on to work effectively pretty much 100 per cent of the time,” said Diefendorf.
“Right now, our pilot project is funded through NOAA fisheries; our main objective of this pilot testing is to get the data necessary to get the gear regulatory certification, and in the process show fishermen that this technology works, it operates very quickly and it operates reliably.”