Fishermen have the most novel approaches to gear innovation

Ben Collier from Northern Ireland Gear Trial project has been working with light technology to help reduce unwanted catch and improve selectivity. Preliminary results show that light could have an impact on fish behaviour with further trials to be completed by March 2018. Stay tuned for more #GearingUpdates from the Northern Ireland Gear Trial Project.

The Northern Ireland Gear Trials Project is a 2-year industry-led collaborative project involving both Northern Ireland based fish producer organisations, Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (NIFPO)  & the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation (ANIFPO), Seafish, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)

The project aims to design, trial and implement more selective fishing gears for the purpose of reducing unwanted catch and avoiding the capture of undersized species whilst retaining target species. In Northern Ireland, the bulk of the catch in terms of weight and value is Nephrops and so, for this reason, the Northern Ireland project works mainly with vessels that are engaged in this type of fishing. There is a recognition that it is the fishermen themselves, along with other skilled individuals working in the gear manufacturing side of the business who are best placed to come up with novel approaches to catching and gear design.

Ideas on selective gear designs have been collected by the project through ongoing face to face discussions with industry and from this, designs are reviewed by the project steering group and then either taken forward to the developmental stage or rejected.

In 2017 two selective gear designs were shortlisted, each subsequently going through a process of refinement, design and manufacture. In August 2017 both designs underwent preliminary trialling in the Irish Sea using a twin-rig commercial fishing vessel. In November 2017 a second trial period commenced, during which the effects of light technology as a potential selective device was investigated. The square mesh panels (SMPs) were illuminated sequentially with blue, green and white-emitting lights.

Exploded diagram of the Fin Fish Free design – preliminary trial undertaken August 2017.

The results from both sets of trials indicated that catch rates of fish could be influenced by the designs that were brought forward by the industry as well as with the use of lights, although more data is required from further trials before any conclusions are made.

By the end of March 2018, the next set of gear trials will have taken place. During these trials, we will be re-positioning lights onto the selective components of our two shortlisted designs as opposed to attaching them to the SMPs. Twin-rig fishing vessels will be used for this work and in addition to this we will be also be trialling 90mm codends against 80mm on a twin-rig vessel and 70mm against 90mm on two single-rig vessels. So make sure you watch this space for updates on our latest trials and access our results via the GearingUp tool.