high tech fish

From left: Eleanor Bochenek of Rutgers, Kevin Jackson of NOAA National Marine Fisheries and Steve Axelsson, captain of the Flicka, go over the new electronic reporting system installed on the Flicka. NOAA is introducing a new electronic reporting system to Lund's Fisheries.

LOWER TOWNSHIP - The next time Lund's Fisheries wants to land a particular species of fish while avoiding other species they aren't supposed to catch, a new high-tech system aboard the boats could point them in the right direction.

That's the promise of a system currently being installed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on all 12 vessels owned by Lund's Fisheries, as well as independent fishing boats docked locally.

Identifying fish locations is only one of the many benefits being touted for a system that has been used on boats in New England but never before in southern New Jersey.

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"This is the first installation in New Jersey and in the Mid-Atlantic," said Wayne Reichle, whose family owns Lund's Fisheries.

"This is the future. It's something really needed by our industry and to give (NOAA) more real-time information to react to changing conditions in the ocean. It can hopefully make us more productive," Reichle said.

Water temperature, recorded electronically by sensors on the fishing gear and delivered to a laptop computer, is only one of the data points the system delivers. It's an important one. Fish are cold-blooded and water temperature happens to be the key feature in where they concentrate.

The system means a boat captain can direct efforts to the water temperatures that produce the fish they are targeting, such as squid or mackerel, while avoiding ones being protected, such as river herring or winter flounder.

"If you get too high in river herring we can say you've got to get to two degrees colder water," said John Hoey, manager of cooperative research projects at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass.

This could translate into higher catches and burning less fuel hunting for targeted species. It helps fish managers trying to rebuild stocks of species in trouble.

An offshoot is that the system supplies key data to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, which is tracking the impact global warming is having on fish populations. A number of fish species are moving their ranges to the north as oceans warm, and having water temperatures linked to specific water depths and catches is vital information. The system records the temperature, depth, time of day, time of year and exact location of catches.

Hoey said the equipment has been installed on about 23 vessels from Rhode Island north, and they've received this data from 37,000 net tows over the past few years.

"It will help us measure how quickly bottom temperatures are changing over time, and we can track fish moving north and south. Climate change modelers can use this data," Hoey said.

The temperature data is expected to lead to new maps showing fish distributions that will help fishermen avoid "problem species" while honing in on targeted species, Hoey said. The future may include a fishing report similar to the ones agricultural agencies put out for farmers giving them information on things such as soil moisture that helps them decide when to plant. The water temperature data may be intricate enough to show where juvenile or adult populations of a specific species would be at a given time.

Hoey equates it to a painting by artist Claude Monet.

"Up close its millions of tiny little dots. Move back, and it's a woman in a park," Hoey said.

In the past such information came from trawling surveys NOAA does in the spring and fall, but this did not supply information at other times of the year and only covered the areas where trawling was done.

The new system also allows immediate electronic reporting of catches. This replaces a system where captains filled out paper logbooks and submitted them to NOAA. Sometimes a quota for a fishery was exceeded before all the logs were turned in since there was a four- to six-week lag time to process the paperwork. The new system gets the data to NOAA within four hours of fish being caught.

"This allows us to stay within quotas and avoid overages. It helps us minimize by-catch we're trying to avoid," said Jeff Kaelin, who handles government relations for Lund's Fisheries.

The path of the net is tracked by GPS while temperature sensors are on the large metal doors that spread the mouth of the net open. The GPS data comes at 30-second intervals so it shows when trawling is done and when a captain is steaming at a higher rate of speed to another fishing spot. Data goes to the NFSC, but captains were supplied with laptop computers, funded by the federal government, to access the data. Hoey noted the computer software was designed by fishermen.

Hoey said the data will lead to other applications.

"Stock assessments are all limited by data. It opens up a lot of more sophisticated ways to improve stock assessments," Hoey said.

Kaelin said the data also shows when the net is in the water column or on the ocean floor. This can be used for such efforts as the one to protect corals that live in the deep waters off New Jersey.

Contact Richard Degener:


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