Smart fishing - Sealord invests in real time technology

Sealord is leading the way in smart fishing with the investment in state-of-the-art equipment to benefit not only the sustainability of species but the future of the fishing industry.

In 2014 the company invested $400k in a special fibre optic cable and winch to enable the Acoustic Optical System (AOS) to relay information instantaneously in real time from the net where it's mounted, to the bridge. This enabled skippers to see live video footage of shoals deep in the ocean as well as access acoustic data in real-time from sensors mounted on the same platform.

However, in some conditions it hasn't been possible to use the real-time monitoring facility since it involves deployment of a costly 3km-long fibre optic cable to the AOS platform. At just 12mm thick, this cable's vulnerable to snapping if the conditions were anything less than ideal, for instance if the net were used near rocky and uneven surfaces. It is also vulnerable if the cables from the two trawl doors (the devices at the rear of the boat that spread the net out wide as it leaves the vessel) cross over, twisting and tangling the armoured cable. The fibre optic cable cannot be spliced, and needs specialist equipment and time to connect up a damaged end.

So to combat this vulnerability, Sealord searched for commercial solutions, and in frustration at the lack of options, requested Jeff Cordell from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to adapt and rebuild a piece of commercial kit to provide a special instant release system for the AOS cable that would enable its on-demand release.

The fishing industry has been using net monitor cables for decades, but no-one had developed a quick electro-mechanical release for them.

The new technology, which involved a further $40k investment, was completed just in time for the 2016 orange roughy spawning survey, which began mid-June, the results from which will be essential in helping to monitor the rebuild of the largest orange roughy stock in the world .

"Basically, knowing that we can release the cable when we need to means we can use it more and make better use of the real-time facility," says Resources Manager Graham Patchell "It can be used for surveying and switching to detailed scientific mode without bringing the AOS on board the vessel."

This not only enables accurate assessment of fish numbers but also detail right down to the amount of signal reflected from the fish from the echo sounder., known in the business as the 'target strength'. Prior to this real-time technology, information of this detail would only be available retrospectively, at the end of each trawl.

"This is Smart Fishing," says Graham. "We're the only fishing company doing this in the world and it enables us to make the right operational decision over which way we turn to survey in split seconds. Now that we have this, we can control all aspects of fishing, including catch control systems, with broadband access from the net to the bridge?

"Through the cable we can also tweak our echo sounders and cameras, switch the strobe lights on and off, using everything on the AOS platform to really optimise what we're doing as we go along, on a very stable platform that does not wobble."

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