Following almost two years of trialling artificial lights on commercial Nephrops trawls in the North and Irish Sea basins, SafetyNet Technologies is getting ready to undertake full selectivity trials. These will be taking place throughout August and September 2023 and will be conducted aboard the MFV Virtuous of Fraserburgh and the MFV Golden Ray of Portavogie.
The trials to date have seen Pisces underwater lights fitted to multiple locations around the trawls during commercial fishing trips. For over 600 hauls, the LED lights were tested for brightness, flash rate, colour and placement within the net. With scientists sampling catch composition for each haul. All this was done with the aim to find the best combination to reduce unwanted bycatch without affecting commercial catch levels.
In addition to the Pisces lights, the CatchCam underwater camera system was also deployed. The wireless camera allowed skippers and scientists to see what was happening underwater, including fish behaviour and any interactions between the fish and the Pisces lights.
Light is known to affect fish behaviour. In fact, previous tank studies found significant changes in fish behaviour around artificial light. However, these can be hard to replicate in a commercial fishing environment where external factors can come into play, such as visibility or the presence of prey species. Which is what happened with these initial commercial trials, where the results were equivocal and somewhat disappointing.
The same cannot be said about the underwater footage recorded by CatchCam. As the camera offered insight into fish behaviour, the research team decided to shift their focus towards the codend of the net where the fish appeared to be more receptive, and to investigate additional technical measures to help unwanted bycatch escape. So far, these results seem promising and will be more rigorously investigated in the forthcoming trials, keeping in mind that these solutions need to benefit both the fishing industry and support marine life.
These planned trials will be conducted aboard two vessels, the MFV Virtuous and the MFV Golden Ray, each running a pair design with one net acting as a ‘control’ trial and the second as the treatment. In order to measure the impact on bycatch, CatchCam cameras will be attached to both nets to film fish escaping underwater. The total catch from each net will be measured and both data sets will be compared. The impact of the LED lights and its technical measures will also be quantified.
The upcoming trials are funded under the FISP project titled Piscesgate and are supported by Marks and Spencer and Whitby Seafoods. The first trials are running in August in the North Sea and the second trials are taking place shortly after in the Irish Sea. The team at SafetyNet Technologies will be sharing updates on their progress throughout and the results will be published shortly after.
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