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Guest blog – ropeless technologies and virtual gear marking

This blog was written by Kim Sawicki, an American scientist currently living and working in Scotland on a Fulbright scholarship. Her goal is 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…


“In 2018, I organized the ropeless gear manufacturers into a working group to help synthesize ideas and simplify our workflow to produce marketable results faster. Our situation in the United States is dire on both coasts with regard to North Atlantic right whale entanglements and resultant fishing closures. Our group now collaborates on a variety of different configurations to solve a bunch of different problems.

I came to Scotland on a Fulbright Scholarship for policy research surrounding those fisheries that could benefit from ropeless technologies and virtual gear marking. Our goals with this technology are to reduce gear interaction between mobile and fixed-gear fisheries and of course, to reduce entanglements of marine animals in static fishing gear.

A critically endangered female North Atlantic right whale entangled in snow crab gear off the Canadian coast. Image credit: Peter Duley.


I brought two examples of this ropeless gear here to Scotland at the request of the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA). Our hope was to share and demonstrate how they work to creel fishers that were interested.

On the weekends, I basically go fishing with creelers (including stacking and hauling fleets, getting seasick and cold, and documenting their processes on their individual vessels for feedback to the ropeless gear designers.) I’ve been doing all this work in my spare time, when I am not working on the Fulbright for a very good reason. Fishing with the gear is incredibly important for our technical process, as it allows us to make sure these systems will be adaptable for use by anyone, in any conditions. We know the gear works, but we’d like it to work as well as possible, so our aim is to take it out and try to test it’s limits, so we can work on making these devices as long-lasting and durable as possible.

Ropeless gears to Be tested (Top: Fiobuoy, DesertStar ARC-1, Ashored-Mobi. Bottom: LobsterLift, SMELTS LobsterRaft, EdgeTech 5112). Image credit: Kim Sawicki


Right now, our greatest hurdle to fishing without rope in the water column 100% of the time is the integration of multiple virtual gear marking apps into one larger cloud system. We are working as a team to integrate GPS fleet or trawl marking data from all the gear types into a system that can be used by trawlers and dredgers in the hope of avoiding gear interactions. This system will also be used by enforcement to help identify gear from inside a vessel at the sea surface.

Because fishing without a marked buoy is illegal in the United States, the help we have been given by our small trials with fishers here in Scotland will go a long way to help US fishers who have been suffering terrible and costly closures. The process of applying for, and being granted, a permit to fish without a buoy on the surface is a lengthy one, and many of the projects require hundreds of thousands of dollars and usually only net a small number of actual fishing trials. Doing things here, one-on-one, and in an inexpensive way, has been incredibly helpful so far. So far, the gear has been trialled on both the east coast as well as the west coast of Scotland, and additional trials are planned through June 2020.


Testing the ropeless gears in Fraserburgh and Ullapool. Image credit: Kim Sawicki. 

The two systems I currently have with me are the FioMarine FioBuoy and the Desert Star Systems ARC-1. Both store rope which is released on-demand, either via an acoustic release or a programmable timed release. The acoustic system sends a barely perceptible and coded signal from the boat to the sea floor, which tells the release to operate. This releases the buoys from a bag, which then lifts the rope to the surface for collection. The spool design can be set on a timer, or an acoustic signal. Both tell a set of jaws to open, which releases a pin. Once the pin is released, the buoy is disengaged from itself, which allows it to flip on its side, and float to the sea surface. The spool slowly spins in the water, which unfurls the rope. Both systems are then collected as normal, with either a grapple or a gaff, and hauled..

The positive response from creelers, (and some trawlers) so far has been overwhelming. They now want to help our working group test these gears and software systems here in Scotland. We aren’t advocating for anyone here in Scotland to consider buying ropeless gear at this point, we are just grateful for the support they are giving to our fishers by helping provide not just an opportunity to try these systems, but also by giving constructive feedback on how we can make them the best they can be.

Heading home under a west coast sunset. Image credit: Kim Sawicki.


Our next goal is to secure funding for a larger trial, which would enable us to work with both mobile and fixed-gear fishers to develop methods that would enable them to avoid costly gear interaction. We also would incorporate additional ropeless models to give Scottish fishers a bigger selection of gears to try”.

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