Project Report:
Improving Fishing Profitability Through Sustainable Fishing
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


In 2009 the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) received funding from the Alex C. Walker Foundation to demonstrate the novel application of an Environmental Management System (EMS) in a US commercial fishery. This gift matches an unusual challenge grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.


This project seeks to design and test gear refinements that will allow non-target species to escape the nets while also increasing fuel efficiency. The results will showcase how fishermen can use an EMS approach to take responsibility for conservation behaviors that also contribute to their bottom line.

Update June 2010:

During the last week of March 2010, GMRI Scientists Steve Eayrs and Dan Salerno took a trip to St. John, Newfoundland, to compare the engineering performance of a trawl used by fishermen in Port Clyde against another of identical design except for the use of large-mesh, fine-diameter netting in the anterior sections of the trawl. Our objective was in part to determine if a drag reduction could be realized, which would then translate into fuel savings. We took half a dozen Port Clyde fishermen with us so they would learn more about trawl design and performance, as well as participate in the tests.

We tested two scale model trawls in a flume tank at the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources at the School of Fisheries at the Marine Institute. A flume tank is a large re-circulating water tank where a body of water is driven past a stationary trawl net. A conveyor belt acts as the seabed. So rather than move the trawl through the tank, it is the water and belt that moves. The tank in Newfoundland is unique in North America, and one of only a handful worldwide.

We tested both trawls and the new version reduced drag by 10-16%. All are very satisfied with this savings, and hopefully it can be realized at sea during summer testing of full scale nets. One fisherman said this was a savings of at least $100 per day, and over a year would pay for his annual haul-out for hull maintenance. The fishermen were so impressed they want a return visit to test their shrimp trawls.

The flume tank testing is an important step in an ongoing research initiative that partners GMRI with the Midcoast Fishermen's Association and fishermen in Port Clyde to design and test fishing gear and practices that are both environmentally and economically sustainable. Additional field tests will be conducted aboard fishing vessels this summer.

Update October 2010:

We have begun to see some promising results in taking an experimental cod-end tested last year into commercial use. The net replaces the 6 ½ inch diamond shaped mesh required by regulations with a 7 inch square opening that is more likely to remain open as the weight of the catch pulls the net through the water (see a video at On an initial trip, one fisherman reported the amount of fish discarded at sea dropped from 30lbs/hour to 5lbs/hour. He also reported receiving a higher value at market because of the premium quality of the retained catch. A second trip, which targeted a different variety of fish, was less successful. This is an important result, as it caused the fisherman to think about proactively changing his gear to target specific species. Changing a cod-end is a relatively easy task and can be done to suit the fish desired for a specific trip -- one way newly formed sectors will be able to better manage their allocations.

Over the course of the summer, GMRI scientist Steve Eayrs worked with fishermen to build a full-sized trawl with the large-mesh, fine-diameter netting tested at scale in Newfoundland this spring. We also installed fuel flow meters on two trawlers out of Port Clyde. For the first time, these fishermen are able to monitor the rate of fuel consumption during both normal fishing operations and while steaming to and from port. This gives them greater control over one aspect of their business costs and ultimately will allow a comparison between fuel inputs to the value of catch brought to market.

The preliminary results from the large mesh, fine diameter trawl are also encouraging. On our first test trip, we realized a 10% fuel savings. Since a small trawler goes through as much as $100/hr in fuel this could prove significant over time -- both to profitability and carbon footprint of fishing operations. The catch was at least equal to standard trawl design and may improve, as we continue to experiment with different size otter boards to hold the net open. When combined with the refined cod-end, the result should be a more fuel efficient net, that efficiently targets desired species. This results in increased conservation benefits and profits.

At least one more trip is expected this fall. Additionally, we hope to continue work next year.

Update June 2011:

In February, GMRI Scientist Steve Eayrs collaborated with our Sustainable Seafood Program Manager, Jen Levin, to present a two-day Environmental Management System workshop in Beverly, Massachusetts. Fishermen and groundfish sector managers explored how to decrease the costs of fishing while improving the marketability and profitability of their catch. Topics included fuel savings, improved catch value, quality handling, reduction of environmental impacts, financing, and marketing. Funded by the Northeast Consortium, the workshop was free to participants. Many came in thinking they may not learn anything new, but a fisherman said, “I didn’t think I would like this or get much out of it, but I was wrong. This has given us a vehicle to work through some of the issues facing the industry - issues that we have some control over. GMRI’s role as an enabler has been extremely helpful. Every single fisherman I spoke to is full of ideas that have never been brought to fruition. Maybe we now have access to the tools to work on some of these ideas.”

In recent months, Steve presented his Environmental Management System research at the New Hampshire Sea Grant Roundtable meeting in Portsmouth, NH, the Fundy North Fisherman’s Association in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland, ME. His work is gaining recognition throughout this region and beyond.

This summer, Steve will work with fishermen to repeat the large mesh fine diameter trails in a region of higher fish density, so they can evaluate the effect of the new twine on fish catch under conditions that better reflect commercial fishing. This result will be combined with the results from last year and his codend selectivity work to produce the foundations of an EMS.

Update December 2011:

Steve Eayrs continued testing the new large-mesh, fine-diameter trawl with a Port Clyde groundfish fisherman during the summer field season. They completed sampling over five days. The new trawl was constructed from 7 inch mesh with 2.1 mm diameter twine from wingtips to codend, and the traditional trawl was constructed from 6 inch mesh with 3 mm diameter twine. The codend, a mesh bag at the end of the trawl to retain the catch, was constructed from 6.5 inch mesh and used with both nets. The new trawl reduced fuel consumption by just over 20% compared to the traditional trawl with no loss of commercial catch. This is a terrific result that has the Port Clyde fleet very excited. The fisherman who tested the trawl is so impressed with the new trawl that he retained the net onboard and used it for the duration of the fishing season. There is no stronger vote of confidence in the performance of the trawl than having a fisherman voluntarily continue to use the new trawl. Further, as a result of this research the Port Clyde fleet has decided to construct a large-mesh trawl for each fisherman over the winter in readiness for ground fishing next spring.

Steve also recently tested the performance of semi-pelagic otter boards with a groundfish fisherman based in Newburyport (the only fisherman in New England using these boards, which may soon change after the results of this fieldwork are published). Otter boards are hydrodynamic foils used by fishermen to spread the trawl open laterally. However, as they do so they generate tremendous drag forces and contribute to fuel consumption. The new boards reduced fuel consumption by just over 10%, reduced seabed impact by 95%, and caused no loss of catch. A preliminary analysis indicates a payback period of just over one year. This is a very exciting outcome, and already several fishermen have ordered new otter boards on the strength of this research. This work is exciting on many fronts; not only has it demonstrated an opportunity to reduce fuel consumption without loss of catch, but profitability is improved through reduced fuel costs, and simultaneously the impact of trawl gear on seabed habitats is reduced significantly. A win-win for fishermen and the environment.

Steve presented his Environmental Management System (EMS) and semi-pelagic door work at the American Fisheries Society annual meeting in Seattle in September, and at the Northeast Consortium Annual Symposium in New Hampshire and GMRI’s Innovative Strategies for Success Under Catch Shares conference in Portland in October. A description of this work was included in an article in Fishing News International (November edition). He is also planning to present this work at the 2nd International Symposium on Fishing Vessel Energy Efficiency in Vigo, Spain, in May 2012.

Energy audits of four boats in the Port Clyde fleet commenced in November. A consultant from TriNav Systems in Newfoundland spent several days inspecting each boat, measuring boat particulars, and interviewing each captain. A final report is now being prepared which will include options for fuel savings including behavioral change and boat modification. The report will in effect include a shopping list of modifications each fisherman could apply to his boat, with estimated payback period for each option. This has not previously been achieved within the fleet.

Steve has begun preparing the results of this work for publication in scientific journals.


GMRI is collaborating with the Midcoast Fishermen’s Association (MFA) and the Island Institute to explore market-based incentives for increasing environmental stewardship. We are developing demersal trawl gear designed to reduce the capture of unwanted fish (bycatch), as well as the amount of fossil fuel used during fishing activities. We will establish an EMS by systematically documenting MFA's efforts to undertake these voluntary incremental improvements to their fishing practices and to showcase these improvements to create a perceived market advantage for their seafood products.


The project is a pilot study in that the results have immediate benefits to a single small fishing community in Maine -- Port Clyde. What we learn, however, will be transferable across the entire New England groundfishing fleet and beyond. It will provide important proof of concept for an EMS as a self-management system that can be broadly adopted by fishermen using any type of fishing method and adapted to suit specific local requirements.

Information Dissemination

We anticipate a wide variety of articles and reports will be shared broadly with the fishing industry, fishery managers, and other NGOs.

Interestingly, during the trip Newfoundland, we had an opportunity to attend a small community meeting where one of the fishermen described the Port Clyde community supported fishery model, and their attempts to increase profitability. This meeting made the local media. It seems that local fishermen are unable to sell fish elsewhere other than to the processors, who in turn pay a depressed price per pound. They had heard of our visit and were interested in learning about the Port Clyde model. These communities are still struggling to come to terms with the cod collapse and seem to be unable to move beyond dependency on government support. Meanwhile there is an exodus of young adults to other cities in search of employment.

Project Link

Amount Approved
$10,000.00 on 11/16/2009 (Check sent: 12/15/2009)

Trip to Newfoundland flume tank
Port Clyde fishermen accompany GMRI scientists to flume tank to test performance of fishing gear.

Testing the net in the flume tank
Fishermen and GMRI scientists discuss net performance revealed during flume tank testing.

Trip to Newfoundland flume tank
Testing the net in the flume tank
Increasing Profit and Reducing Environmental impact in (PDF)
EMS Project Results (PDF)

350 Commericial Street
Portland, ME 04101

(207) 772-2321
(207) 772-6855 (fax)


Donald Perkins
President, Gulf of Maine Research Institu
Jill G. Harlow
Advancement Strategist, Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Mr. Jonathan Labaree
GMRI Sector Initiative Program Manager
Steve Eayrs
Scientist, Fish Behavior & Gear Technology

Posted 9/30/2009 4:02 PM
Updated   12/6/2011 1:33 PM

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