There has been a huge disconnect in the fishing industry for many years. Scientists and researchers have been broken off from local companies, and without this tie many possible innovations are being lost through the cracks. This is something that Dr. Boris Worm spoke about last Thursday at the IORE Ocean Connector event. He believes that there is a significant issue with by-catch in worldwide fisheries. After his presentation it was very easy to agree with him. With almost 90% of the world’s fisheries being threatened or collapsed due to overfishing, it becomes obvious that a new approach needs to be taken to reduce the detrimental effects of by-catch.
However, what does this new path look like? According to Dr. Worm, it is one where “smart fishing gear” is developed constantly to limit the waste caused from unwanted by-catch. One example given by Dr. Worm was the groundfish industry in New England. As fishers were targeting haddock with their trawling nets, they were catching a significant amount of cod, skates and plaice; in some cases more by-catch than haddock. This heavy over fishing caused serious damage to the ecosystem and the fishing industry in the area. This was until a group of scientists took it upon themselves to develop a smart-gear solution to only catch the haddock. The final solution seems brilliantly simple. Haddock, unlike other groundfish, swim upward when startled by a trawl. This led to a simple hole made in the bottom of a trawling net for the other species to swim down and out of when caught in the net; all while retaining the haddock. The results were shocking; skate were caught nearly 50 times less and other species were significantly reduced all while retaining the same haddock catch rate. After some slight caution by industry, it was quickly adopted and has become a major success story in the region as ecosystem impact has greatly dropped.
One of the most interesting points of Dr. Worm’s presentation was the outlook that he had on the financial impact that “smart-gear” could have on an industry. He argued that fishing industries should be doing everything they can to try and find new technologies because it will ultimately save them money. Imagine the amount of labor hours spent removing all of the unwanted by-catch and the gas spent pulling it out of the water. These could be significant savings for these ships, all while making their processes more sustainable. Dr. Worm finished his presentation with an open-ended call to action. Find a way to save the environment while also building industry, a unique perception.