“Squid is one of the most important fisheries in southern New England because the season is open all year, so fishermen can still catch it when other species are out of season or they’ve met their quotas on other fish,” said Barbara Somers, a researcher at the URI Fisheries Center.
By-catch is one of the most significant issues facing the commercial fishing industry. When non-target species are captured, it often must be discarded back into the ocean, and much of it is already dead.
So fishing net designer Jon Knight of Superior Trawl in Narragansett, in collaboration with commercial fishermen Chris Brown and Steve Arnold, developed the two new nets with adaptations that allow non-target species to escape.
One net incorporates a “rope escape panel” into its design that enables finfish like scup and butterfish, which are often found in the same waters as squid, to swim between the ropes and escape. The project, with the assistance of former URI fisheries researcher David Beutel, was funded through the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation of the Southern New England Collaborative Research Initiative.
The second net featured a 12-inch “drop chain” that created an opening beneath the mouth of the net that lets various species of flatfish avoid being captured. It was funded by a grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service to URI fisheries researchers Kathleen Castro, Laura Skrobe and Somers.
The URI researchers spent last spring and summer conducting tests of the new nets in side-by-side comparisons with traditional squid nets. The nets were also tested in a massive flume tank at Memorial University in Newfoundland. The data collected in the tests is still being analyzed, and outreach efforts to the fishing community will take place at the conclusion of the projects.
Preliminary results are promising. In a pilot study of the net designed to eliminate flatfish, the traditional net caught an average of 130 pounds of summer flounder while the redesigned net caught just 20 pounds of the overfished species.
“Both of these net designs will help fishermen reduce the catch of species they don’t want to target, thereby conserving the resource,” said Skrobe.