The Belgian research institute, ILVO,  and Belgian PO, Rederscentrale, are testing technical innovations in beam trawling to reduce bycatch and improve survival – they are also testing some ‘seriously new tech’. Check out the lastest blog from Mattias Van Opstal from ILVO. 

The introduction of the Landing Obligation poses a major challenge for the Belgian fishing sector since it mainly practices mixed-species beam trawling. To assist the sector in dealing with the Landing Obligation, Belgian research institutes ILVO and Rederscentrale intend to reduce the catch of choke species and other bycatch in beam trawling – and improve survival too. The project, known as Combituig, seeks to achieve this by the developing and refining technical innovations in the Belgian beam trawl fleet.

Combituig tests innovations to reduce choke species and other bycatch in the net. It aims to improve the selectivity of fishing nets through the use of panels and different net materials, as well as alternative mesh sizes and shapes. The project explores what gear adaptations influence the survival of the catch, including the effects of the volume caught, haul duration, and organisation on deck.

In the first year of the project, several innovations were tested in lab conditions and in trials at sea. Next to more common innovation types like benthic release panels and larger cod-end mesh-sizes, some seriously new tech was tested. These experimental innovations included lights, laser beams and whirl spoilers – a design by fisherman Job Schot, which lifts the chain mat to reduce direct bottom impact while creating extra turbulence in the water.

Picture of fisherman Job Schot and his ‘whirl spoilers’

The project is still ongoing but some interesting initial findings are already available. First of all, the use of LED-lights inside the net seems to be promising: fish clearly react to the lights and catch composition is influenced, but ILVO is still looking for the best configuration to improve selectivity. On the other hand, experiments by ILVO in collaboration with Thünen (Germany) and FMRI (Iceland) to herd Crangon crangon (common shrimp)with laser beams were not successful, in contrast to very promising experiments conducted on Pandalus borealis (northern prawn) by the Icelandic colleagues. Other interesting results were obtained with increased cod end mesh sizes. On specific fishing grounds, increased mesh size allows fishermen to lose a lot of benthos. Fish quality is improved, and except for sole, there was no significant loss of commercial species. When catch of sole on these fishing grounds is limited, the fishermen involved were willing to increase the cod end mesh size.

Sector engagement is at the core of the project and, on commercial vessels, the crew carries out self-sampling, and the catch is analysed in detail at ILVO.

The project aims to have strong stakeholder participation throughout its lifetime. All findings will be shared with the sector through “Innovating Fishing” knowledge meetings and consultation with interested fishermen, shipowners and the Rederscentrale.

We will also be uploading the Combituig trial results on to the Gearing Up tool when they are ready, so please watch this space!

Check out the Gearing Up tool here: tool.gearingup.eu

Banner image: Seafish © Asset Bank 2019 – https://www.seafish.org/