Fishing Reform Through Smart Nets and Wheelhouse Spies

In an effort to decrease fish discards, Maria Damanaki, Global Managing Director for Oceans at The Nature Conservancy, leads a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, and calls for boats to be installed with smart nets and on-board cameras.  Trial efforts in the UK have decreased fish discards by up to 36%.

Fish net designs are critical to the success of the reform.  New designs are tested at the North Sea Centre in Hirtshals.  The varying designs should allow for separate catches.  One example, a slanting plastic grid at the center of a trawl net allows for smaller fishes and shrimps to pass through the slots.  The bendable plastic grid is then tied to the fishing gear.  This design costs a hefty £2,000, but the agency hopes to subsidize 85% of the cost for small boats.  Another design is the rolleball net for catching flatfishes.  Instead of dragging, the net rolls over seabed to reduce damage to the ocean.

Boats are also installed with sophisticated cameras, GPS, infra-red sensors, and hydraulic sensors.  This integrated system records the location of the boat and the fishes caught in the last two months.  The kit, installation, and the software costs a hefty £9,300.

According to Mike Montgomerie, Gear Technologist at the Seafish UK, most fishermen included in the trial are embracing the change to help reduce fish discards.  Damanaki also highlighted the importance of implementing selective gear to reduce unwanted catches. One boat owner in Scarborough, Yorshire isn’t quite ready for the change.  Fred Normandale felt like he was being spied on, with cameras installed on his boat.  Grant Course, Marine Management Organization’s head of marine trials, stated that the strategy is more efficient and cost-effective than having on-board human observers.  Computers are known to store more accurate information than human observers.

While most fishermen are accepting the change, fisheries particularly in Brussels may not be as accepting, stating that varying environments and conditions require varying designs.  Politicians will have difficulty sorting out complaints, whether genuine or based on vested interest.  Some may even boycott the reform.  But the determined Damanaki is hopeful that the fishing reform will be achieved.

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