Fish Factor: ‘Smart buoys’ trac, monitor deployed fishing gear

Blue Ocean Gear Smart Buoy. Photo courtesy of Adam Pardee

Lost fishing gear — be it nets, lines or pots — continues “ghost fishing” forever, causing a slow death to countless marine creatures and financial losses to fishermen. 

Now new “smart buoys” can track and monitor all types of deployed gear and report its location directly to a cell phone or website. 

Blue Ocean Gear of California created and builds the buoys that also can track ocean temperatures, depth, movement, even how much has been caught. The small, three-pound buoys are just seven inches in diameter, don’t require any special training to use, and are tough enough to handle the harshest ocean conditions.  

“All the information is collected in a database,” said Kortney Opshaug, company founder and CEO. “We have both a mobile app that you can access from your phone or a web interface that allows you to see more of the data, charts and things like that. Most of the buoys have satellite transmission, but some also have radio transmission and we’re working more and more with that. They’re slightly more cost effective, and we can create networks out on the water that are talking to one another.”

Opshaug and her Silicon Valley team of engineers and product developers were motivated primarily by the impacts of lost gear on the marine environment and the costs to fishermen. 

 “As we explored the space, it became very clear that lost fishing gear was one of the most devastating issues that has both environmental impacts as well as financial impacts on the industry,” she said. “There’s about 640,000 metric tons of gear lost every year and it continues to fish. It becomes devastating for the marine ecosystems, but it’s also unlimited competition for the fishermen from their own gear that they’ve lost. Plus, they have to pay to replace that gear. So we developed our smart buoys to be able to track gear out on the water. We thought if you could track it, you’re not as likely to lose it.”

“There may be a crab pot at the bottom of the ocean and a buoy at the surface, but when the tides and currents are strong, the buoy can get pulled underwater. Fishermen can’t find it and they waste a lot of time and fuel. But our device tracks the gear from the surface,” added Peter Macy, chief business officer.

The smart buoys, which first hit the water in 2015, were tested by two vessels during the 2020/21 golden king crab season in the Aleutian Islands to help refine the software and communications settings. The automated system identified several pieces of errant gear, including a line that had severed. It allowed the recovery in real time of nearly 100 pounds of floats and lines that would otherwise have been lost. 

“Real time alerts are the difference between an eight-day trip and a 14-day trip,” said one of the skippers in a case study testimonial on the Blue Ocean Gear website, adding that “the time saved per string of gear was about seven hours.”

“The main goal is to help fishermen fish more, and fish more sustainably,” said Macy.  

The smart buoys also are being used in Alaska’s halibut fishery and a first order has come from a Southeast kelp farm, Macy said, crediting assists from the Alaska Ocean Cluster.

The buoys also are in use on the east coast, Canada, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Learn more at www.blueoceangear.com

Bristol Bay sockeyes on ice

Sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay is taking to the ice at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena in a partnership with the National Hockey League’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken

Bristol Bay Native Corporation, which represents 31 tribes comprising 10,000 members, also will operate a Bristol Bay Wild Market in collaboration with the fishermen funded and operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and Bristol Wild Seafood Company

BBNC purchased Blue North Fisheries and Clipper Seafoods in 2019 making that new company the largest longline Pacific cod operation in the U.S.

The three organizations have come together to bring “exceptional wild Alaskan seafood and the people and rich cultural heritage of Bristol Bay to millions of Arena visitors every year,” the groups said in a press release. 
During every game and event held at the arena, an Alaska seafood menu will feature wild Alaska panko cod and sockeye tacos, fish n’ chips, sockeye fillet and baguette and chowders. 

Bristol Bay also will be splashed across hundreds of TV screens inside the arena, the LED side rings, on the main scoreboards and more. 
The marketing move follows the lead of Oregon-based Pacific Seafood, the first seafood supplier to land a sports partnership last fall with a multi-year deal with the Pac-12 Men’s basketball and football teams which includes a dozen West Coast universities. It added Pac-12 Women’s basketball earlier this year. 
Back on the ice rink, the Kraken team and coaching staff also will hold annual hockey camps in Alaska for kids who wouldn’t normally have exposure to the game.

It’s good to get canned

Sales of canned salmon continue to surge as COVID-conscious consumers continue to opt for more healthy, easy to use, non-perishable foods. 
Seafood Source highlights a new report by market tracker Fact.MR which predicts the global canned salmon market will reach $4.5 billion this year and sales will continue to grow through 2031.
More global consumers also care more about where their seafood comes from, the report said, and wild Pacific salmon is the top choice, accounting for the most market share of nearly 82% this year.    

The market experts predict that overall, wild canned salmon will generate 67% of the total global market share and nearly 62% of total North American sales over the next decade. 

It’s good news for Alaska which provides over 95% of the nation’s wild salmon. 

Not surprisingly, boneless/skinless fish is the preferred canned item and those sales are expected to rise at an annual rate of nearly 7% through 2031. 

Canned pinks are expected to have the most demand with a market share this year of 34.5%. The market watchers also predict an upsurge in pink sales to global markets at over 7% per year.  

Canned sockeye salmon is the second-highest seller, especially in exports to Europe. 

Canned chums also are becoming more popular “because of their lighter oil content,” and annual sales growth is projected at 6.2% over the forecast period, the report said. Coho salmon also is expected to “witness lucrative growth with a rising demand across the globe” estimated at 5.5% per year.

Alaska processer reports show that over 81 million pounds of Alaska salmon went into cans in 2020, valued at nearly $687 million on their sales sheets.  Of that, nearly 60 million pounds were pinks valued at $205 million; canned sockeye salmon topped 21 million pounds, worth over $480 million at first-wholesale.
Salmon canning started in Alaska in the 1870s and by the early 20th century, it was the state’s largest industry, generating 80% of the territorial tax revenues. Its position then in Alaska’s economy is one that oil enjoys today. 
OBI Seafoods has been Alaska’s largest canned salmon producer for over 100 years. John Daly, manager of U.S. canned sales, believes the canned pack has the staying power to remain as one of the state’s most well-known products. 
Ever since I’ve been in the industry, I’ve heard from everybody that canned salmon is dying,” Daly said. “And here we are with record numbers.”