Interview by Natalie Sopinka
What fisheries take place at Fogo Island?
This image features the Fogo Island Atlantic Cod Gadus morhua stewardship fishery, which is a small-scale commercial fishery operating in Newfoundland, Canada. The majority of the cod fishermen in Fogo Island catch their cod quotas using gill nets; however, some fishermen are handlining or using pots to harvest their fish. Fogo Island is a small (230 km2) island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and is made up of 11 communities with a total population of approximately 2,300. The dominant commercial fisheries operating out of Fogo Island are for snow crab (Chionoecetes spp.) and shrimp Pandalus spp.
Who is in this photo and what is he inspecting?
The man in the photo is Phillip Walsh, one of the fishing gear technologists from the Fisheries and Marine Institute of the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN-MI). He is inspecting the catch within a Norwegian-style cod pot, which we have been testing as part of my MSc research. My research is focused on comparing two different styles of Atlantic Cod pot (the Norwegian style [pictured] and the Newfoundland style pot developed by Phil Walsh at MUN-MI), with the goal of improving potting technology to encourage its adoption among fishermen for sustainable cod exploitation.
How do cod pots work?
Cod pots are a stationary fishing gear that functions relatively similar to the pots used to catch both lobster and crab. Pots sit on the seafloor and use bait to attract their target species along with retention devices to prevent escape. Pot characteristics, such as mesh size, number and size of entrances, and bait type, can be adjusted to specifically target certain species, as well as reduce the bycatch of nontarget species. This reduction in bycatch is one of the greatest benefits of using pots. The quality of meat retrieved from pots is superior to many other fishing methods, because the fish are alive and able to swim freely within the pots until retrieval. This increase in quality results in a greater market price per kg of pot-caught fish when compared to seafood produced by other methods.
What are the differences between Newfoundland and Norwegian cod pots?
There are many differences between the Norwegian and Newfoundland cod pots, but the most immediately visible difference is the size. The Newfoundland pot is much larger and heavier and is constructed using beams of round reinforcing steel, whereas the Norwegian pot is smaller and lighter weight. Because of the smaller size of the Norwegian pot, multiple pots can easily be fished together as a single fleet connected by a ground line. Both pots have two entrance funnels, but the entrance to the Newfoundland pot features long metal retention fingers (known as triggers) to allow only one-way entry into the pot and to prevent escape. In contrast, the Norwegian pot entrance does not feature any retention device. However, the Norwegian pot we are testing is currently illegal to be commercially fished in Newfoundland because of its smaller mesh size and is only being used for research purposes.
Why compare the two types of cod pots?
Comparing the two types of cod pots allows us to determine whether the different style of pot results in a different catch of fish. We are trying to determine which pot results in the greatest catch per unit effort, which pot catches the largest-sized cod on average, and which pot results in the least number of bycatch. We are combining these catch data with underwater videos of the pots during deployment so that we can gather a greater variety of data during deployment so that we can gather a greater variety of data.
Why are researchers now attaching cameras to fishery gear?
Using underwater cameras to study fishing gear during deployment is very important to help determine how the gears interact with marine species, as well as what kinds of bottom impacts these fishing gears have on the surrounding seafloor habitats. Catch data itself can be very informative; however, it only tells researchers exactly what is caught, whereas the cameras can inform us what we didn’t catch, as well as the underlying mechanisms behind why different gears catch different fish. We are hoping that our underwater videos will help us find any bottlenecks or inefficiencies in the current designs of cod pots so that we can develop improved potting gears in the future.
How did this partnership between scientist and industry form?
A small group of fishermen on Fogo Island, in conjunction with the Shorefast Foundation (shorefast.org), have been fishing their Atlantic Cod quotas within the cod stewardship fishery since 2007 using the Newfoundland-style cod pot developed at MUN-MI. These fishermen and the Shorefast Foundation are in support of a collaborative research effort between science and industry that focuses on cod potting, with the goal of making this technology more sustainable and efficient.
What other species are found near/in the cod pots?
Both of the cod pots we tested yield very low levels of bycatch. However, the typical bycatch species that we have found, both inside and outside of our pots, are Toad Crab Hyas araneus, Greenland Cod Gadus ogac, Shorthorn Sculpin Myoxocephalus scorpius, and eelpout (family Zoarcidae). Toad Crab are the species most frequently caught as bycatch in our pots. However, because individuals are free to move within the pots when caught, they’re alive and healthy when retrieved, meaning that a greater proportion of bycatch can be returned to the water unharmed.
Where else do pot-based fisheries occur?
Pots are used throughout the world to harvest many different species. They are used in Alaska to fish for Pacific Cod Gadus macrocephalus, as well as in Norway for Atlantic Cod and some Baltic fisheries too. Other pot fisheries also exist countrywide within Canada for several species including Spot Prawn Pandalus platyceros and snow crabs.
Do you know any tongue-twisters that mention cod pots?
The most common tongue-twister I run into when discussing my research is referring to the “pot-caught cod” or “cod pot– caught cod” that we harvest using our gears. These terms are used to distinguish cod harvested using pots from cod caught using gill nets or other fishing methods. I think I’m slowly getting better at saying these terms without fumbling my words.
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