12 September 2002

PR 02/75

Loughborough innovation prevents fishing net deaths of dolphins and porpoises

Loughborough University researchers in co-operation with Aquatec Subsea Ltd are at the forefront of research to halt the decline in the world’s population of dolphins and porpoises.
Reports regarding the decline in these marine mammals have been causing increasing worldwide concern for many years, with recent reports highlighting problems in the South West of England and Scotland.

Dolphins and porpoises are known to respond to ultrasound, they use high frequency sounds to communicate and to hunt their prey. However dangers such as static fishing nets are virtually undetectable to their sonar sense – and often have fatal consequences. Loughborough University’s Underwater Acoustic Research Group and Aquatec Subsea Ltd have developed AQUAmark, a series of high tech acoustic warning devices which have now been shown in commercial fisheries to be very effective in saving marine mammal lives.

When activated by immersion in seawater, the AQUAmark pingers transmit a complex series of pre-programmed acoustic signals, comparable or less than the sound intensities produced by the marine mammals themselves. These signals act as a warning, repelling the mammals from fishing nets, and at close range can actively mask echoes from the fish they may be targeting with their sonar.

Dave Goodson, Chief Experimental Officer at Loughborough University, and part of the team working on AQUAmark commented, “Our aim has been to significantly reduce and if possible eliminate the risks to marine mammals of fishing nets.” He continued, “This is a significant problem that the fishing industry wants to solve but where traditional approaches have been ineffective. The digital technology we have developed is electro-acoustically very efficient and the randomly timed wideband warning signals we chose were selected only after detailed studies of porpoise and dolphin behaviour. AQUAmark is not only effective as a porpoise deterrent but offers a much longer operating life and includes management features which are not possible with analogue technology traditionally used in pingers introduced in the USA.”

One of AQUAmark’s biggest successes has been in Denmark where after very thorough testing new regulations were introduced two years ago that required this pinger to be used in the North Sea wreck net fishery for cod. So far the protection provided has been 100% successful and no porpoises have been killed in the nets equipped with AQUAmark devices. Further successful trials took place in the French Mediterranean in 2001 where an AQUAmark device adapted for use with dolphins produced an impressive reduction of 87.3% in the number of dolphins caught.

Recent press reports have focused on the large numbers of dolphin carcasses being washed up on the English Channel coastline, which are believed to be linked to pair-pelagic trawlers targeting sea bass. The Loughborough team, together with European partners from Holland, France, Denmark and Sweden, have investigated dolphin behaviour around pelagic trawls and found that dolphins and other small sea mammals are attracted to these nets, often deliberately swimming inside the mouth of the structure to prey on fish as they gather there.

As a result of these Loughborough studies, the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, commissioned the consultancy services of Loughborough University Enterprises Ltd. and Aquatec to develop a remotely controlled research tool to help solve a perceived problem in the Irish pair-pelagic fishery for Albacore tuna. Incidental catches of dolphins and porpoises can occur in this fishery which operates along the continental shelf edge between Spain and Ireland. The experimental system was recently delivered and the current trials are examining the effectiveness of this, together with the use of standard AQUAmark devices in this more difficult environment.

Andy Smerdon of Aquatec concludes, “We expect to continue our previous successes with this project, our development work is ongoing and working with Loughborough we now have the technology and the expertise to tackle new fishery/marine mammal interaction problems as they occur.”


For further information contact:

• Dave Goodson, Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Loughborough University
T: 01509 227076, E: A.D.Goodson@lboro.ac.uk

• Fleur Stanford, Loughborough University Enterprises Ltd
T: 01509 228684, E: F.T.Stanford@lboro.ac.uk

• Andy Smerdon, Aquatec Subsea Ltd, http://www.netpinger.net
T: 01252 843072, E: infor@netpinger.net

• Publicity Office, T: 01509 222224.

Notes to editors

1. The Danish Institute for Fisheries Research commissioned a large-scale trial of the Loughborough deterrent during 1997 and the results showed a highly significant reduction in harbour porpoise bycatch on nets fitted with the pre-production acoustic device. The positive outcome – just one animal caught in a net equipped with deterrents although 23 were killed in nearby unprotected nets during the study – prompted a Danish regulation requiring the use of such acoustic deterrents on all wreck nets (one type of gillnet) from August to October. One thousand AQUAmark 100 devices were supplied to Denmark in 2000, when the regulation came into force. Since then, not one porpoise has been reported caught in these nets, although statistics had predicted that 415 animals should have died in this period.

2. The preliminary trials in the French Mediterranean ‘Thonaille’ fishery using AQUAmark 200, a lower frequency device adapted for use with dolphins, showed an 87.3% reduction in the number of dolphins caught, and a further 1600 devices were subsequently purchased to support an extended study involving the whole fleet. Similar benefits are now being reported in Greece, Sicily and in other Mediterranean countries where the devices are being deployed to help artisanal fishermen reduce the frequent damaging attacks on their nets by dolphins.

3. The AQUAmark beacon technology, includes a number of patented features, and comprises a battery, microprocessor-controlled electronics, acoustic transducers, and an immersion switch. AQUAmark™ is the trademark of Aquatec Subsea Ltd. PICE™ is the trademark of the Loughborough University pre- production deterrent device from which the AQUAmark product range has evolved.

4. Pair-pelagic trawls are large fishing nets towed by a pair of fishing vessels in order to catch fish swimming in mid-water or near to the surface.

5.. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities, and industry highlights Loughborough in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 30% of the University’s income is for research. The University has been awarded three Queen’s Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; and for pioneering research in optical engineering.




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S.P.Rowbottom@lboro.ac.uk, September 2002 Copyright © Loughborough University Publicity Office. All rights reserved.