What happened?

An observant fisherman alerted the operators’ of the Albatross IV to the problem with the uneven trawl wires shortly after the wires were installed in February 2000.  In the spring of 2002 the Science Center checked the wire, but now “admits” that the way the wire was initially checked was “not effective”.  It was not until September 2002 (almost 3 years after the installation and the fisherman’s warning) that the gear was properly checked and the error ultimately found.

In a press conference, the Science Center “admitted” that they do not have an established protocol for checking any of the fishing gear used in the survey.  (Boston Herald 9/25/02) 

Why is this important?

Science 101 teaches that good scientists calibrate their equipment before beginning an “experiment”. 

Survey data is used to estimate abundance and fishing mortality rates.  The faulty gear affects a total of eight surveys, and therefore influences the most recent data that could be used to determine the present status of all of our fisheries resources in the Northeast (with the exception of scallops).  Of most immediate concern is that the data that will be used to determine the current status of the groundfish resource, prior to the severe restrictions contemplated by Amendment 13, is seriously flawed. 

What else is wrong with the survey gear?

Fishermen’s observations from Albatross IV cruise 9/24-9/27/02:

Prior to departure, fishermen examined the net and observed:

The “cans” on the net displayed atypical flat spots from wear.  This suggested that the cans were being trapped under the footrope, which would cause the net to work improperly.  (This was later confirmed through observation when the net was actually deployed.  The Albatross crew was unaware of this “snarl” but was alerted to the problem by the fishermen aboard.)

The doors, which play a critical role in keeping the net evenly spread, display an obvious difference in wear indicating that one door is spreading more than the other.  Also, the “backstrap” on the doors showed improper twists in the chain.

During the cruise, video from the camera affixed to the net revealed:

Even when the net was towed with equal wire lengths, the “wings” of the net are not making contact with the bottom.  The sweep and the wings must be on the bottom in order to catch fish; otherwise the fish will escape under the net.

When the net was towed with uneven wires, the distortion of the net opening is obvious and significant, and increases exponentially as the length of offset increases.  The more distorted the net, the less fish will be caught.

During the cruise, problems with the gear that would also cause net distortion and impact catchability were observed:
There were fewer “cookies” on the  “sweep” of the port wing, making the sweep sixteen inches shorter than the starboard wing. 

The spacing of the hanging chains on the footrope was not even, and was off by as many as 10 inches in some areas. 

The roller frame of the net used by the Albatross is too light for a vessel with the horsepower of the Albatross IV.  The result would be the net being lifted off the bottom in most towing conditions.

For more information, contact: 
Maggie Raymond, The Groundfish Group, Associated Fisheries of Maine, 207-384-4854