Big fish join Nova Scotia startup’s quest for no-contact trawling

Nova Scotia

A small startup company in Yarmouth, N.S. hopes to take the "ground" out of groundfish trawling with a more efficient and environmentally friendly trawl system it says will eliminate ocean bottom contact and use uncrewed surface drones to find fish.

ABCO Industries of Lunenburg, N.S., will design and build an uncrewed surface vessel — or USV — equipped with fish finders. It's one of the partners in the Precision Fish Project funded by the Ocean Supercluster program. This is a company USV from another project. (ABCO)

A small startup company in Yarmouth, N.S. hopes to take the "ground" out of groundfish trawling with a more efficient and environmentally friendly trawl system it says will eliminate ocean bottom contact and use uncrewed surface drones to find fish.

"This project is aimed to reduce sea time for the fish harvesters, which is better for the harvesters and the industry, but also good for the environment," said Marc d'Entremont, CEO of Katchi Technology. "It's sustainable and we're not disturbing bottom habitat."

The company aims to replace the heavy steel plates, known as trawl doors, released from the back of a fishing boat that drag along the ocean floor to spread the net.

Instead, specially shaped hydrodynamic blocks attached to the top and bottom of the net will open as water hits them.

Sensors on the nets and vessel will direct winches to reel in and pay out cable to control the depth of the net, allowing trawling anywhere in the water column.

"What we're trying to do is remove the trawl doors of the existing trawl equipment and flying that net above the seabed and avoiding obstacles as you pull it through the water," d'Entremont said.

Marc d'Entremont and Angie Greene of Katchi Technology, seen here in their Yarmouth office, are developing a new fish trawling technology that's easier on the pocketbook and the environment. (CBC)

Uncrewed surface vessels, or USVs, with fish finders would be deployed and retrieved from a fishing boat or sent in advance to fishing grounds.

Eventually a fleet of drones could be dispatched to an area, streaming back data in real time.

About half of the money for the $3.3 million "Precision Fish Project" is coming from the federal Ocean Supercluster innovation fund. The rest is coming from private sector partners.

The project is set to run 18 months.

Katchi will test the first net prototype on board the Scotia Harvest trawler Lery Charles in September.

Scotia Harvest — a Mersey Seafoods company — is one of the partners, which also includes Canadian shellfish giant Clearwater and Dartmouth-based Rimot, which makes remote monitoring devices.


Engineering and fabrication company ABCO Industries will design, test and build the USV. The first is expected in the water in about a year.

"What we're looking at doing is integrating the types of sensors that will allow you to differentiate between the different species on board the USV," said Colin Ross, ABCO's director of research and development.

"The idea is that it can actually go out and identify the target species and then look at the breakdown of the quantity of the target species versus [non-target] bycatch and then allow you to use that information to actually target your fishing operation accordingly."

The company says the cost of its trawl will be comparable to existing gear — about $150,000 on a 65-foot vessel — but will be cheaper in the long run by reducing repairs, fuel costs and time — which adds up to less pollution.

Katchi chief financial officer Angie Greene, an accountant and fisherman's daughter, says the fishing industry will want proof it works and is affordable.

"They want to hear that there is less downtime for repairs and maintenance. It fits on their drum. They don't have to put their vessel into dry dock to retrofit for new gear, that it's not more expensive, that it fishes and it catches fish, that it saves them fuel and that it's safer for their crew because there isn't 6,000-pound steel doors swinging around when the net comes up," Greene said.

'Herding and deterring technology'

The project is also examining the use of so-called "herding and deterring" technology through devices that emit sound and light from the nets themselves.

"The idea would be that you can potentially either attract or deter your target species from your fishing zone. And that's one of the really exciting technologies that the team is exploring through this project," Ross said.

A real-world test of all of this is likely to involve the expanded redfish fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The redfish population there is exploding but it shares the same space as white hake, a species in serious trouble.

More fish finding and midwater trawling would give fishing companies, like Scotia Harvest which holds redfish quota, more finesse in harvesting.

"So you'll be able to target kind of specifically in the water column where the fish are and hopefully where they aren't," said d'Entremont.

Today the company occupies a shared space in a technology incubator office on Yarmouth's Main Street.

But it has big ambitions.

"The market? Our pond is southwest Nova. But as soon as we can secure that these fishers are happy with our product then we're looking at a worldwide market," said Greene.


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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