Transponder tags fishing gear A PingMe transponder clipped to the corkline of a static net

When Ocean Space Acoustics (OSAC), based in Norway, set about looking for a solution to the increasingly high profile issue of lost fishing gear, they collaborated with research institute SINTEF.

The intention was to come up with something that would contribute to cleaner oceans, while also help fishermen avoid the costly losses of fishing gear. As well as the major financial loss of fishing gear lost due weather or even being towed away by another vessel, the issue of ghost fishing by lost gear that can continue to catch over extended time periods.

The collaboration between OSAC and SINTEF has come up with the patented PingMe, a smart tool for tagging gear and objects underwater. Now in its closing stages of development, PingMe will initially be available as an affordable standalone system, with a sensor and wheelhouse-based signal reader. Further development work is in progress to provide a system that will allow for simple integration of the signal reader into any vessel’s existing fishfinding electronics. 
PingMe consists of a small, user-friendly sensor device – or egg – which is attached to the gear before shooting away. This device acts as a locator and location monitoring system.

The PingMe software allows the transponder to be polled determine location and an identification signal, and as an added bonus, the PingMe service also reports location and ID to the Cloud where the information is also stored and data on lost, detected and retrieved gear is reported, in some cases automatically.

This not only enables the fisherman to monitor the location of his gear but could, depending on how many users are using the information available, help avoid conflicts with other boats or fisheries who can use the system to be aware of where other boats’ gears are placed.

The transponder itself is a passive device and reflects signals originating from a sonar, up to a range of 1000 metres. The reflected signal is encoded with a unique identity so that the sounder with PingMe software integrated can identity the transponder and tabulate its position. This information can be encrypted if the information is to be transferred to the cloud.

Using PingMe’s online service, skippers can register lost gear with an associated ID and also report recovery of other lost gears.

An added bonus of this new product is that the PingMe sensor also relays information on water temperature at its location. PingMe can also be used for better control during active fishing, as by attaching transponders at regular intervals to the gear, better control of where the gear is currently located has the potential to make fishing more efficient and profitable.

Comments from fishermen in Norway suggest a very positive reaction to the PingMe system and, on the west coast of Ireland lobster and crab fishermen approve of the concept.

“This could be a huge benefit to us. When my gear has been out for several days during stormy conditions, my only thought as I go to sea is how many leaders of pots/traps will I have lost this time?” one fisherman said.

“Before even leaving my home, knowing that my gear is still where I left it, or at least if it has moved, that I will have the ability to go and find it would give me fantastic peace of mind,” he said, adding that a tool such as this which has the potential to reduce the major costs that fishermen face in replacing lost gear – which could make PingMe’s technology a game changer for the industry.

According to marine biologist and WWF-Norway senior adviser Fredrik Myhre, ghost fishing through lost or abandoned fishing gear is a major killers of fish, mammals, seabirds and invertebrates in the ocean every year.

“We need to improve our knowledge about the amount of fishing gear that is being lost at sea and at the same time to be more efficient in recovering what is being put into the sea in the first place,” he said, adding that a reporting system for lost fishing gear in combination with a demand for a technology to recover what is being lost will be important tools in order to reduce the damage done by ghost gear worldwide.

“We all depend on a healthy ocean – and both humans and marine animals are all paying a high price if the problems caused by lost fishing gear are not solved,” he said.

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