Steps toward an ecosystem-based fishery

The difference between the difficult and the impossible is that the impossible takes a little longer time. -Lady Aberdeen

Diamond Rocks, Kilkee. County Clare. Ireland

As consumer demand for sustainably produced food grows, industry, too, will need to be directly involved in the hands-on adaptation of techniques that ensure profitability as well as workforce compliance with policy.

During my recent study abroad in Ireland, I was witness to the pride and commitment the fishing industry had toward sustainable practices, as well as in maintaining their strong cultural identities. Understanding how that balance is achieved is critical to formulating a best-practices approach to implementation of new technologies in the United States, which has been struggling in its efforts to adopt new methods. With multilevel-multi-agency policies now being implemented that limit fisheries acceptable biological catch, innovative approaches to harvesting fish from the sea has become a necessity. Policy adaptation supporting advanced fishing technologies which are designed to reduce bycatch and entanglements can cripple industry if too restrictive and must be adopted in ways that are manageable and fair for success to be realized. Lobbyists, scientists, and industry in the US are now resorting to a variety of litigious measures to protect their stated interests, therefore, understanding how the EU cooperatively manages their fishing industry could prove highly beneficial. Policy measures that ensure solicitation from all stakeholders will be examined, and future suggestions for a novel framework for the US managed fisheries will be proposed. My study will focus on those policies and directives in the EU identified to have had the most positive impact on fishermen and their communities. This research is instrumental in assisting with efforts in the US when interacting with community fisheries to encourage a more fruitful and engaged cooperative attitude toward marine conservation.

-Kim Sawicki October 2018

Fishing without Rope?

Southern Right Whales. © Brian Skerry

Past research has indicated an undeniable benefit to the use of innovative ropeless gear within pot and trap fisheries with a removal of end lines and buoy lines. (Baumgartner et al., 2018.; Werner et al., 2015; Lent, 2017; FAO, 2018) These innovative approaches to end line management allow for the lowered risk of bycatch and entanglements of critically endangered species, most particularly that of the North Atlantic Right Whale.

It is imperative that a better understanding of the benefits and potential gains be attained if technology such as this is to be affordable and accepted for widespread use for pot/trap fisheries.  Due the innate differences of individual fisheries, it is well accepted that there will likely not exist one perfect ropeless technology that will address all of the individual needs of all fisheries. Many of the current designs have several decades of successful use in other applications, serving to catalyze and invigorate new manufacturers of gear, as well as thoughtful adaptations of existing devices.

As with any proposed change to fishing technique or technology, there has historically been a period of resistance, research, and adjustment. This period has been unusually long for ropeless gear, and thus far, much of the discourse between management and industry partners has been laden with untested hypothetical concerns regarding functionality and implementation.


Valid concerns provided by fishers with decades of harvesting experience have not been reasonably resolved with the limited testing that has been completed by manufacturers, environmental non-government organizations, or fisheries partners. To ensure the continued success of a co-management approach to fisheries practices, priority needs to be given to further this testing.

-Kim Sawicki January 2019

Spend some time with people, before you change their way of life.


“Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.” – Carl Gustav Jung

Civic engagement and communication are the most vital link to understanding those factors that drive successful policy change. Immersing oneself in local cultural activities can work to promote the position of all scientists working in marine conservation. Cerebral comprehension of issues that concern fishing communities when faced with change is not enough to inform decision makers, instead, having a “finger on the pulse” of that which makes a community strong is. Often, understanding comes from rapport that develops through identifying shared interests and commonalities.

Spending quality time with those lives you will affect through suggested policy changes ensures that you have the opportunity to not only study the economic impacts these policies can and do have on these communities, but also the cultural implications and experiences that are realized.

-Kim Sawicki December 2018

What Consumers Really want…

An Introduction to DEVELOPING, MAINTAINING, AND LEVERAGING SUSTAINABLY MINDED CONSUMERS to Care about Ropeless Fishing…                           

At the 2019 Seafood Expo: North America, Globescan presented “What Consumers Really Want: The Future of Sustainable Seafood.” Associate Director, Abbie Curtis O’Reilly informed several hundred industry stakeholders on a through survey done of North American seafood consumers (n=10,477) which found that 67% believe that seafood consumption should come only from sustainable sources, while 81% agree that seafood supplies need to be protected for future generations. It was also discovered that “pollution of the oceans is the most concerning ocean issue” for consumers, followed by overfishing.

Credit: Morris, et al. 2018

When pressed further, 70% of those asked (n=4,155) stated they would like to hear more from their seafood suppliers of choice on the sustainability of their products.

Perhaps then, a goal for future marketing for suppliers could stress how they address the issue of both marine debris as well as ghost fishing. This will help illustrate the benefits ropeless fishing has to the environment, which in turn, can help make it more important to today’s consumers of seafood. Not everyone may know that fishing presents a danger to whales, but everyone these days knows how full of trash our oceans are. (Morris et al., 2018)

Credit: Morris, et al, 2018

Further, she offered a plan to engage consumers in acting on their beliefs when purchasing products that are sustainably sourced. There are four key steps to this approach;

  1. Educate – use popular channels to maintain a high awareness of ocean sustainability issues.
  2. Equip – people care about independent certification, but lack awareness of ecolabels when shopping.
  3. Excite – messaging ensuring protection of fish for future generations can help to inspire.
  4. Engage – the power of partnerships is key to engaging the mainstream. (Morris et al., 2018)

Of equal importance is networking and engagement with the seafood wholesalers, dealers, retailers, and restaurant industry representatives. Alliances with organizations such as Sea Pact and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership will be critical to ensuring that ropeless fishing technology and the vast improvements it can offer pot and trap fishing to reach higher sustainability goals are well-understood and communicated within industry.

Why is this important for ropeless fishing?

Fishers are justifiable exhausted by the many measures they have been forced to undertake over the last two decades, at great expense to themselves, and with seemingly little or no benefit to whales. (Pace et al, 2014) None of these measures have been proven to reduce death or severe injury.

For those of us who fight for these technologies to be given a chance and further developed, the onus lies with us to now demonstrate not only a conservation need for these gears, but desire from consumers to support this type of fishing. This change requires a major restructuring of thought, a reorganization on deck of gear, and a substantial collaborative effort of all stakeholders, with priority given to funding for gear.

Kim Sawicki- November, 2019


This article was taken largely from a document that highlights the findings in the aforementioned presentation, an altered form of that presentation was found to share with this audience. Questions may be addressed to the author, or directly to the contact listed below.

HOW WILL ROPELESS GEAR HELP END WHALE ENTANGLEMENTS?

EXPERT BLOG › FRANCINE KERSHAW

Guest Blog: Kim Sawicki

November 20, 2019 Francine Kershaw

Meet Kim Sawicki, an American scientist currently living and working in Scotland on a Fulbright scholarship. Her goal? To advance the development of ropeless technology and help bring about its regular use in pot and trap fisheries around the world. Kim’s vision is to end whale entanglements while also preserving the fishing communities she works with. Here, Kim shares some insights into her work…

What is ropeless gear and what inspired you to work on advancing this technology?

In July of 2018, while in search of a sponsor for my PhD work, I met with Dr. Michael Moore of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I will never forget when he drew for me a trawl of pots book-ended in vertical lines and buoys and expressed to me that the greatest threat to the incredibly endangered North Atlantic right whales existed within those endlines. He told me if there was something as an epidemiologist I really wanted to do to help truly make a difference for whales, it would be to address this issue through the research and improvement of ropeless fishing gear. This is how I tell people I was “roped into ropeless research.” So began my mission to understand ropeless technology and help bring about its adaptation for commercial use in pot and trap fisheries around the world.

Ropeless fishing gear, or ASBRS (Acoustic Subsea Buoy Retrieval Systems) as I like to call them, includes any device that allows for storage of buoys, rope, or lift bags to be stored at depth where they present little or no threat of interaction with whales. These items are stored alongside the first trap in a fleet or trawl of traps and triggered acoustically—like remotely opening a car door—only when a fisher is nearby and ready to haul their fishing gear. This greatly reduces the time that the line and/or buoy are in the water column and presenting a threat to whales or other marine animals. 

Ropeless (ASBRS) (Top: Fiobuoy, DesertStar ARC-1, Ashored-Mobi.
Bottom: LobsterLift, SMELTS LobsterRaft, EdgeTech 5112) Credit: Annika Toth

As a scientist working with engineers, how do you approach developing ropeless gear?

Just like any innovation or invention, there’s a period of testing, customization, and adjustment that must be done. This topic always brings to my mind the invention of the cellular phone and the super tiny and incredibly powerful ones that we have now compared to the bulky suitcase models we had a few decades ago. It’s true that we can’t see the “lines” that attach our phones now, as with landlines, but that doesn’t limit their power or ability to give us the information we need.

This period of adjustment is particularly important for a ropeless device because the approach and technique of every fisher is individual. Also, conditions in different geographic locations present different challenges for every fishing community, so these gears need to be adaptable (which they are!). This also means fishers need to have an attitude of collaboration when they agree to try fishing with these new methods.

One of the things I like to talk to fishers about is “taking the gear out and breaking it.” To us, this means testing how durable it is and how we can best challenge its functionality to make further versions of the technology better and as unbreakable as possible. The ingenuity of fishers and their enthusiasm for trying something new is the most important part of designing something for their use. The creativity and inspiration that I get to experience from them, firsthand, is pretty hard to forget.

Many of the fishers I’ve worked with have been excited and motivated to try something new that will help them reduce their amount of gear loss. I’ve also worked with people who have been directly affected by entanglements; either finding deceased animals in their gear or in the gear of others. It’s been clear to me that, while rare, these occurrences have a meaningful impact on them as humans. I find many of those fishers are even more motivated than their peers to try to help solve this problem and care less about their own gear loss than the life of the animal.

Credit: Kim Sawicki

What has been your experience working with ropeless engineers and manufacturers?

For over a year I have collaborated with a large group of ropeless gear manufacturers and engineers to help streamline the testing process as well as the data we collect during it. Every single one of them set aside their own personal and commercial objectives to work together for the benefit of these animals. Something else that I find really inspiring is their willingness to work together to show the interoperability of their systems. They meet regularly with each other, both virtually and in person, to investigate opportunities for collaboration to help prove ropeless fishing as a concept worldwide, and have also shared valuable private internal data with me to help answer many of the questions both fisheries managers and fishers have about their gear. 

They’re always very happy to receive feedback from the fishers I’ve worked with to better their designs or to make them more adaptable to other fisheries. In the U.S., they also recently collaborated on a response to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team’s examination of the feasibility of ropeless gear to provide direct answers to concerns about their products raised by federal and state agencies, fisheries managers, fishers, environmental groups, and other vital stakeholders.

What are some of the perceived barriers to the success of ropeless gear?

One of the greatest stated concerns for all is the perceived economic cost of ropeless fishing gear. This could be addressed in its own article, but I truly feel that at the heart of this reluctance to adapt is the fear fisher’s experience over a potential loss of control of their local community resource. 

Fishing communities all over the world are able to self-police and regulate outsiders and those who do not adhere to local “gentlemen’s agreements” or customs. The loss of the simplest method of self-policing, a colored buoy or buoys at the sea surface, seemingly removes a fisher’s ability to ensure the future of their own catch. To me, this is completely understandable, but absolutely addressable with the use of virtual gear marking through software integration. 

Other issues such as mobile gear interaction and overlayment (i.e., setting a trawl over another person’s gear) can be resolved by use of virtual gear marking and vessel tracking technologies, as well as certain areas being deemed “for use by pot fishers only,” which is currently visually designated by the buoys that sit on the sea surface. Ropeless gear will also make it easier to locate pots and traps that have been dragged along the seabed by ocean currents or other types of fishing gear like trawls. This will reduce the amount of lost fishing gear, which represents an economic burden to fishermen, as well as the amount of marine debris overall. 

At the end of the day, all of those less-than-desirable mobile and fixed-gear interactions will likely never be wholly resolved, nor those that are caused by local territorial conflicts; not with visual buoys, regulations, nor with software. But the use of ropeless gear could absolutely reduce risk to other mariners posed by buoys that float at the surface, the overall amount of marine debris, as well as the amount of ghost fishing by lost pots or traps. 

What’s next on the horizon for ropeless gear?

Credit: Kim Sawicki

Ropeless gear testing is currently underway in extreme environments such as the North Sea, Cape Cod, and Canada to test the upper limits of functionality of these gears. We are taking it out and “trying to break it” as much as possible to build these gears up to be as strong and reliable as necessary in any fishery in the world. This is something that is absolutely vital if we are to advance these solutions for future widespread adoption. 

Additionally, six manufacturers have been working together to demonstrate how ropeless gear can be used to fish within an area that currently is closed to fishing due to potential risks to the endangered North Atlantic right whale. The manufacturer’s collaborative approach to meet this goal, which required the setting aside of competitive interests, really shows their commitment not just to saving whales, but also to ensuring the financial viability of fishers and their communities.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kim Sawicki is an American scientist currently living and working in Scotland on a Fulbright scholarship. Her work is in collaboration with the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) and the Marine Institute (Republic of Ireland). Her nine-month independent research project requires her to travel along the coasts of both countries to work in close contact with entanglement experts, pathologists, engineers, policy makers, and fishing communities. Her past experience working as a public health professional in emergency & disaster medicine cultivated in her a passion for epidemiology and Pathobiology. After earning dual degrees in Pathobiology & Veterinary Science and Allied Health Sciences, she made the decision to apply her knowledge and energy to the study of cetacean epidemiology. Her current work focuses on trauma-induced mortalities, namely those involving entanglement in fishing gear. She recently co-founded “Sustainable Seas”, a group focused on empowering individuals, fishing communities, and conservationists to engage in productive and non-judgmental dialogue to help reduce cetacean mortalities. She is dedicated to working with innovative technology, fishers, and engineers to save marine mammals from unnecessary anthropogenic deaths, and to preserve coastal fishing communities as they are.

FRANCINE KERSHAW

Project Scientist, Marine Mammals, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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Answers to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team Ropeless Subgroup Feasibility Matrix

Six ropeless fishing systems: Fiomarine’s Fiobuoy®, Desert Star Systems ARC-1, Ashored’s MOBI, LobsterLift, SMELTS Lobster Raft, and EdgeTech’s 5112 ©Annika Toth, 2019

Answers to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team

Ropeless Subgroup Feasibility Matrix

Author: Kim Sawicki Correspondence to: Kim.Sawicki@uconn.edu +44 7840 489378

Contributing authors and collaborators: James A.R. McFarlane, Michael Shegog, John Fiotakis, Rich Riels, Jacob Wolf, Maxwell Poole, Aaron Stevenson, Marco Flagg, Robert Morris, Michael Stocker, Hannah Myers, Edward Wyman, Cormac Hondros-MacCarthy, Ted Zhu, Russ Mullins.

Author’s Note: In the interest of hastening the continued progress of ropeless fishing, in November of 2018, eight companies that have either a mature product or are actively developing ropeless technologies formed an informal working group after the Ropeless Consortium meeting trough which they collaborate and share data through a central researcher.  The author and Fulbright student, affiliated with the University of Connecticut, the University of St. Andrews, and the Marine Institute, has functioned as a liaison for information gathering to answer many of the questions posed by the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction team. That data can be viewed in the full version of this document, available below.

The opinions, calculations, and summary points are those of the author, only, but were the result of conversations, data sharing, and collaboration with many of the above listed parties.  Several of the above mentioned parties were directly quoted in this report and are being listed as coauthors or collaborators.

My Ask: My request to the ALWTRT would be to ensure that the continued development and support of ropeless technologies be included in the rule-making process.

Kim Sawicki-September 2019

We have a chance to fix things.

No. 3329 Credit: Peter Flood

“If I seem like a radical, it may be because I see things that others do not. I think if others had the opportunity to witness what I’ve seen in my lifetime…I would not seem like a radical at all. We have a chance to fix things.”

-Her Deepness, Sylvia Earle. Mission Blue

It has taken several days for me to sit down and write this post.  This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because writing the words will make it real.

A year ago, I didn’t even know what a North Atlantic Right Whale was. Since that time, I have spent countless hours researching these animals, their families, their food, their habitats, their mating and migratory behaviors. I have also studied their necropsy reports, lab results, and a multitude of photos that exist of these animals and their babies. Too often, the images I see show them sliced apart or strangled by various fishing lines and lost gear, washed ashore as nothing more than deflated sacks of bone. The images of gaping wounds from propellers or a pathologist’s knife are becoming so common that now I feel each birth, and each loss, as intimately as if they were my own family.

We have lost 6 of a critically endangered species so far this season. Four of them were female.  We know that there are less than 100 breeding females in this tiny population that now numbers only 412. And this number only stands if all 7 of the calves born in Georgia and Florida survive their first year of life.

I will add more to this post as information becomes available, but please take a moment to pay tribute to these six individual animals whose lives enriched our coastal waters for too short of a time.

We still have a chance to fix things.

-Kim Sawicki, 1 July 2019


Please consider a donation to the Center for Coastal Studies, an organization that does incredible work for our North Atlantic Right Whales, as well as our ecosystem-at-large.


What do we know about these animals that died?


Punctuation Credit: DFO

We know that Punctuation, a 38-year-old grandmother, had been previously entangled in fishing gear before and survived. We also know that she was struck twice by boat propellers and lived. We know that she had at least 8 calves that also had successful births. We also know that she traveled to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence this summer, was struck by a third boat, and was killed.


Comet Credit: Dr. Moira Brown

We know that Comet, 34, was a grandfather as well. It has been determined by his autopsy, completed June 28th, 2019 by by the Marine Animal Response Society, DFO, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, the Atlantic Veterinary College, the province and the Canadian Coast Guard that his death was also, likely due to ship strike.


Wolverine Credit: Sheila McKenney/Associated Scientists of Woods Hole/Marineland Right Whale Project
Wolverine Credit: Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC
Wolverine’s Necropsy Credit: Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC

We know that Wolverine, whose cause of death has yet to be determined, was only 9 years old. This is the equivalent of a 9 year-old human child dying of “unknown” causes. Wolverine was named for the propeller gashes visible along his spine. He also had been the victim of a series of entanglements.


Clipper and Calf 2016 Credit-Marineland RW Project

We know that Clipper, who was necropsied today on the Gaspe Penisula, was the victim many years ago of a previous ship strike that left her with a clipped tail fluke. She was first seen in 2004, and had likely been a mother twice. Clipper was reported as of July 5th, 2019 to have also been killed by a ship strike.


No. 3815 Credit: Center for Coastal Studies

No. 3815 was first seen as a calf off New Jersey in May 2008. She is the daughter of Harmony, No. 3115, who was the daughter of No. 1815. She was only 12 years old, and was just entering the age of sexual maturity.


No. 3329 Credit: Jolinne Surette

No. 3329 was likely born in December 2002 off Georgia. She is the daughter of Viola No. 2029 who was the daughter of Ipanema, No. 1629. She was also quite photogenic.


We still have a chance to fix things. Right Whale Credit: Brian Skerry
sustainable seas 2019

Ropeless Consortium Informal Industry Working Group Ropeless Gear Testing Matrix 2019

Below please find a gear testing matrix that is offered open source to anyone wishing to perform ropeless gear testing. It is the result of the collaborative efforts of all of the gear designers and manufacturers listed on this blog. Through their willingness to work together to solve the problem of entanglements, they are proving that their hearts, as well as their technology are in the Right place. I would personally like to thank them for their participation in this seemingly small but important contribution.

-Kim Sawicki March 2019

Confirmed North Atlantic Right Whale Entanglement Deaths as of 2019


Above data appears in map form as published by
NOAA’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team.

Statistical data available to date indicates that these numbers reflect possibly less than 6% of all North Atlantic Right Whales killed as a result (either direct or indirect) of entanglement in man-made gear. This is a staggering number considering the current known population of the North Atlantic Right Whale numbers a mere 418 individuals.

View all pertinent data on the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team’s April Meeting on their Website Here

-Kim Sawicki March 2019

Why disentanglement teams are a crutch and not an adequate defense against entanglements.

Humpback whale entangled in fishing gear. © 2019 Captain Steve’s Rafting Adventures

“Disentanglement is a crutch that’s been leant on for too long, it should not be viewed as a long-term solution to the entanglement crisis”
– large whale disentanglement team member, Massachusetts.
Quote from Ellie MacLennan’s 2017 paper “Disentangling a Whale of a Problem”

From the 2017 National Report on Large Whale Entanglements:

“Seventy-six confirmed cases of large whale entanglements were documented along the coasts of the United States in 2017. Seventy of these entanglement cases involved live animals and six involved dead animals. All were independently confirmed by the Large Whale Entanglement Response Network.”

The five most frequently entangled large whale species in 2017 included humpback whale, gray whale, minke whale, blue whale, and North Atlantic right whale. Large whale entanglements were reported and confirmed in the waters of 13 states, along all U.S. coasts except within the Gulf of Mexico.

Approximately 70 percent of confirmed cases in 2017 were entangled in fishing gear (line and buoys, traps, monofilament line, and nets)”

2017 National Report on Large Whale Entanglements, NOAA.

Sadly, this is an all-too-common occurrence these days.

This whale was unable to be completely disentangled, despite the best efforts of the whale watching company (who reported it and stood by the animal) and NOAA’s authorized and highly-trained team. Even when people do everything right, many of these entangled animals can not be freed.

No fisher ever wants or intends to be the cause of these entanglements as they are costly to the fisher as well as the environment. Fishers are not the cause of these entanglements, outdated technology is. We owe it to them to work toward a solution that keeps this in mind.

Deceased Atlantic Humpback, cause of death unknown. ©2019 Betty Burks

-Kim Sawicki March 2019