Developing a Device to Improve Discard Mortality in the Gulf of Maine Recreational Groundfish Fishery: the BaroSafe System

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Adam Bricket Blue Water Concepts, Inc. Principal Investigator
Erik Chapman N.H. Sea Grant Co-Principal Investigator
Christopher Glass Northeast Consortium Collaborator
Mark Godfrey Collaborator

The Need

The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) has identified natural and gear induced discard survival as a key concern in Northeast U.S. fisheries. This is because population models used in stock assessment are very sensitive to this parameter, there is great uncertainty in the estimation of discard mortality, and because there is great opportunity for conservation benefit if both recreational and commercial fishermen are able to reduce discard mortality through improved handling and best practices. While fisheries managers of commercial fisheries have adopted the use of gear modifications (e.g., larger mesh sizes and square mesh, escape panels) and management practices that reduce discard rates, relatively little has been done to increase the survival of landed fish that must be returned to sea. Fish that cannot be kept by a fisherman that are landed on-board a fishing vessel and returned to the sea may experience physiological stressors such as barotrauma, temperature extremes, as well as physical damage during sorting and increased predation rates. It is generally understood that discard mortality can be reduced if fish are returned as quickly as possible to their capture depth.

In recreational fisheries, gear such as the SeaQualizer™, a simple device clipped to a drop line, that quickly and safely return individual fish that must be discarded to capture depth appear to have provided one tool that can help improve discard mortality. While this approach is gaining some traction in the recreational fisheries, it returns just one fish at a time to depth plus broad-scale adoption is unlikely due to difficulties in using the device under normal operations for commercial fishermen and the for-hire charter boat fleet.  In fact, field tests aboard recreational charter vessels in the Gulf of Maine indicate significant problems for adoption in the recreational fishery. Successful development of a device that will be used by industry and will achieve meaningful conservation benefit requires development of a system that can return multiple fish to depth by a team with expertise in science, outreach, engineering and the practical realities of fishing.

Proposal Overview

Wepropose a project that will design a device (BaroSafe) that will re-introduce significantly more fish, faster, and in a manner more convenient for recreational fishermen than currently available technology. The project will be co-led by a local engineering and marine manufacturing company, a New Hampshire charter boat fisherman and UNH scientists and extension specialists. This represents an important, largely untapped opportunity to improve fisheries management. Unlike other conservation measures designed to benefit a particular target species and a potentially short term need, this device would benefit all species caught and could be an integral part of the future of recreational, and possibly commercial fisheries. This project will result in 1) a field tested prototype, 2) a qualitative assessment of the success of the device to release multiple fish to depth in the recreational fishing industry, 3) an estimate of the influence of time-at-surface on successful release and recovery of fish at depth, 4) a final report and outreach materials summarizing the project, 5) engagement of UNH in research, and 6) a proposal for broader funding to further develop the BaroSafe System.

Project Details

The device will be designed and sized by Blue Water Concepts (BWC) with extensive input from local charter boat captain, Mark Godfroy of Seabrook, N.H. Dr. Erik Chapman and Dr. Chris Glass will volunteer their time to conduct preliminary testing of the device and to help coordinate the project.

This team will design and build a durable, efficient, easy to usebarotraumarelease device that can quickly return many landed fish to capture depth with limited interruption to recreational and commercial operations. Particular attention will be directed toward durability, material selection, and scalability. The release device will consist of a fusiform cylindrical (torpedo shaped) container with a top and bottom door. Attached to the bottom door will be the hydrostatically triggered latch. This latch will open at a user-specified depth. The range will be selectable between 100 to 300 feet (typical inshore capture depth), but can be easily modified to release at any offshore bottom depth. The device will be mounted to an on-­deck pole, cable, and 12V electric winch release/retrieval system. The release/retrieval system will be lightweight and will install into a standard size rod holder. BWC aims to utilize existing and well accepted fishing technology to insure reliability and confidence among fishermen who adopt the device. Additionally, the system will be designed for rapid descent and retrieval with minimal user input. A descent rate of 150 feet/minute is targeted. Anticipated cycle time for release (descent) to on-deck retrieval is under 5 minutes.

The device will be tested at sea for functionality and robustness aboard the R/V Atlas and R/V Maggie B., BWC’s test vessels. Both vessels are fully insured and surveyed through August of 2016, and will be operated by Coast Guard certified captains. Following these initial functionality tests, the system will be placed aboard one of Mark Godfroy’s charter fishing vessels (FV Lady Tracey Ann II – a 65’ vessel that can carry up to 45 fishermen) where it will be field trialed for 3 to 5 days at sea. This time period coincides with high catch rates on N.H. recreational boats of Acadian redfish, a species that is particularly susceptible to barotrauma.

During charter boat trials, video of fish at the surface and at the release point will be recorded. Video analysis will be used for qualitative assessment of cage effectiveness with respect to reducing discard mortality. To do so, a fish health index on release (1 to 10) will be developed and prescribed to each discarded fish.

Although we know that the shorter the time that fish are released at capture depth the better for the survival of the fish, a longer time will allow more fish to be added to the cage and will be less of a disruption for fishing operations. Therefore, the influence of return time at the scale relevant to charter boat operations will also be tested during trials. To do so, we will vary the time spent before returning the cage to depth between 2min, 5min and 10min and we will explore the influence of time-at-surface with fish health index.

University of New Hampshire undergraduates from the recently formed “Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture” club will be involved in this data analysis. The project would also create an opportunity for a Doyle Fellowship student that could participate in field testing, data analysis and outreach development. Dr. Erik Chapman and Dr. Chris Glass will lead analysis and coordinate the experimental portion of this project.

Proposed Timeline

December 2015 to February 2016: Design and manufacturer prototype. Blue Water Concepts and Captain Mark Godfroy will spearhead this work with some coordination and involvement by Dr. Erik Chapman.

February to March 2016: Transfer of the prototype to Captain Mark Godfroy’s vessel

April to May 2016: Testing under normal charter boatoperationsduring early season Acadian redfish and other groundfish fishing.

June to July 2016: Complete final report for N.H. Sea Grant. Produce outreach report that will broadcast results via the N.H. Sea Grant website.

July 2016 to December 2016: Seek out funding for broader project development to NOAA’s Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program (BREP).