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Robust Camera for Bycatch Reduction in Scallop Fishery


Recent deployments on the East Coast of the United States, have seen CatchCam attached to a scallop dredge onboard the fishing vessel K.A.T.E. II. The underwater camera CatchCam allows fishermen to gain unprecedented insights into the gear’s underwater operations.

“We’ve been trying to reduce flatfish bycatch in our dredge and the camera has helped us see what is really going on,” shares Billy Hullbig, skipper of the K.A.T.E. II. By now, CatchCam has been deployed nearly 500 times and “every time we learn a little bit more of how the dredge works and how the fish behaves”.

“The underwater footage is allowing us to create better escape routes for the flatfish in the scallop gear and, we’re already seeing positive results”, adds Billy.

Scallop dredge haul filmed with a CatchCam camera on the East Coast of the United States

Reducing Bycatch in the Scallop Fishery

The primary objective behind deploying CatchCam on the Georges Bank scallop grounds, in the US, was to address the issue of bycatch in this fishery, with a particular focus on minimising flatfish bycatch.

Deployments started in August 2022 and while the initial purpose was to observe the efficiency of underwater lights as a tool for reducing unwanted catch, the camera helped shift the focus in a different direction.

The underwater footage recorded by CatchCam improved the understanding of the gear’s operation. This gave Captain Billy and his team the evidence to pursue the development of alternative escape mechanisms for the fish. 

In particular, the implementation of a square mesh twine top panel in the dredge, to give the fish an increased chance of escape while maintaining scallop catches. As seen in the video below, this approach utilises the fish behaviour and water flow dynamics in the dredge. 

The CatchCam camera added to the scallop dredge to observe the performance of a twine top panel to reduce flatfish bycatch.

Providing Underwater Evidence

To attach the underwater camera to the dredge, two mechanisms were used: a bespoke attachment created specially and welded onto the dredge, and a homemade apparatus. This last, allowed the CatchCam camera to be attached inside and outside the dredge, capturing completely new footage in the critical areas of the gear.

CatchCam was attached to the dredge gear using a (1) bespoke mechanism which was welded to the gear and (2) a homemade apparatus which allowed for more flexibility.

“I was skeptical at first, but the CatchCam proved to be very versatile and durable logging over 2500 videos. With some simple ingenuity we were able to mount it all over the dredge and its gear”,  commented Captain Billy. He adds:  “Without the footage, we would be theorising. But now we can see things for ourselves and can move forward much quicker than we have been able in the past”.

By capturing underwater footage, the camera has opened up new possibilities for developing efficient strategies to reduce bycatch. As a result, it supports fishermen in their daily operations not only by providing evidence of gear underwater and allowing for quick fixes, but also by supporting their adhesion to regulations.

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