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Old 03-06-2011, 02:09 AM   #1
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Default On commercial fishing, generally.

So I'm sitting here this evening after a long day in the lab, eating a frozen pizza, drinking many, many rum & cokes, and watching episodes from last season's "The Deadliest Catch." A fairly typical evening in the life of this bachelor.

Yeah, I know... Reality TV. I won't try to defend it.

Now, we'll just take it as read that I know precisely jack **** about commercial fishing. Spent a fair bit of time at sea as a kid on my uncles' boats, but that was just the trappings of a rich lifestyle, not exactly modern industry. So pretty much 100% of what I do know about this industry comes from watching this banal and yet oddly captivating TV show. In other words, if any of y'all have ever done anything even remotely like this before, I'll gladly shut my piehole and defer.

That said, it seems to me that these guys spend a hell of a lot of time randomly dropping pots all over God's creation, hoping to land on a spot where crab are, and as often as not, pulling up a box full-o-nothing. So let's think about this for a minute: Your game plan is to burn through a ton of fuel and a ton of bait, several days of hard labor, and at least a carton of cigarettes each, and at the end of it you have maybe 50 or 100 isolated and mostly uncorrelated static datapoints on which you base the rest of your season.

And it dawns on me: Why the hell aren't these guys carrying ROVs?

I mean, wouldn't it suck a hell of a lot less to show up for the start of the season a few days early, go out in advance of the crew's arrival with just the skipper and one tech, and spend some quality time staring at the bottom of the ocean while making zigzag passes around the spots you intend to work? See a crab- follow it. Find its buddies. Stalk it like Hustler following a retard on the internet. See nothing? Move along- minutes are wasted, not days. Hell, you wouldn't even need to take out the big boat and burn big boat fuel. A 25 footer would more than suffice.

Sure, it's a few extra days' outlay at the onset, but I find it hard to imagine that this would not pay back many times over in time not wasted working barren ground, given the time and labor-intensive nature of the current expeditionary protocol. These guys are acting like they're still in a pre-rationalization environment, where it's faster pussycat all the way.

Someone seriously needs to build an ROV platform which is specifically geared to the commercial crab fishing industry.
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Old 03-06-2011, 02:29 AM   #2
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What's an rov?
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Old 03-06-2011, 02:43 AM   #3
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Remotely operated underwater vehicles. ROV. Most of them have an umbilical that runs to the boat. in their case the boats move pretty fast where the ROV would have to pull hundreds of feet of cable through the water to match the boats speed.
a better / cheaper solution IMO would be to tag the small ones they have to throw back so that they can track them similar to how they do with whales and such. from what i understand the crab migrate in large groups so more than likely if they see a few in one area there would be tons of others.
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Old 03-06-2011, 01:04 PM   #4
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Hmm. It seems like most of the boats are owned by relatively small companies. My guess is that owning and operating and maintaining a ROV would be quite expensive. That said, lease arrangements or consulting ROV operations could probably be arranged, at a lower fixed cost. Also, perhaps deals could be struck where the ROV company would receive a percentage of revenue from the catch.

There may also be technical issues too. Ice? Rough seas? Then again, looking at this map, it looks like there are lines already in waters up there, albeit not in the bearing sea. You could have a good idea, but I can still think of more obstacles like: the ROV would need to probe very frequently in multiple locations. This means more cost.

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Old 03-06-2011, 01:05 PM   #5
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Also, assuming increased catches for fishing in general, we are ignoring the potential ecological and sustainability impact.
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Old 03-06-2011, 02:28 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by yank View Post
Remotely operated underwater vehicles. ROV. Most of them have an umbilical that runs to the boat. in their case the boats move pretty fast where the ROV would have to pull hundreds of feet of cable through the water to match the boats speed.
Yup.

The problem is that most ROVs as we know them today aren't optimized for speed- they're built for versatility. Robot arms, chassis designed to fit inside shipwrecks or maneuver around oil drilling equipment, fifty-seven vectorable thrusters so it can turn inside its own profile on all three axis at once ... It's like comparing an AH-64 Apache helicopter to a BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile.

That's actually where I'm thinking. The ROV would have approximatively the size and shape of a Tomahawk or a modern naval torpedo. Long, thin and built for speed. But rather than a tiny engine and a huge warhead, you could devote about 75% of the device to motor. Stack a group of 3 or 4 electric motors in series, sealed in a housing which is filled with a thin, nonconductive fluid (something like glycol) which is pressure-equalized. The host vessel has an essentially infinite supply of electrical power available, so with a suitable umbilical you should be able to run the fish fast enough to lead the ship by quite some distance.

These ships aren't all that fast; 10-15 knots typically. The British Mark 24 Tigerfish torpedo cruises at 35 knots with a puny onboard battery, and the American Mk48 is estimated to run at 55 knots with its chemical engine. Even with an umbillical attached, you ought to be able to outrun a crab boat with a few big AC motors on board. Fill the forward section with a set of cameras and some HID lamps, and profit.



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Originally Posted by Faeflora View Post
Hmm. It seems like most of the boats are owned by relatively small companies. My guess is that owning and operating and maintaining a ROV would be quite expensive. That said, lease arrangements or consulting ROV operations could probably be arranged, at a lower fixed cost.
That's a great idea, actually. Adopt the Panavision model, where you lease both the camera and the operator / technician. And the more I think about it, the pre-run might be unnecessary. These ships clearly have enough space to carry around a two man camera crew during the normal run, they can easily one ROV operator and his gear. Do the survey in realtime. See crab? Drop pots and keep going. Treat it like a sonar fishfinder.





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Originally Posted by Faeflora View Post
Also, assuming increased catches for fishing in general, we are ignoring the potential ecological and sustainability impact.
Looking specifically at Alaskan crab fishing, there would be no net change in the size of the harvest. In 2005, they changed the rules such that instead of it being a free-for-all, where each ship is able to catch as much as it can in an alloted time (derby-style fishing) to a quota system, where each ship is assigned a specific tonnage which it may catch, and they have as much time as needed in which to do so. This has caused much controversy as it had the effect of driving many small fishermen out of business- they chose to sell their quota allocation to the larger operators as they considered their individual quotas too small to justify the trip.


No, the profit motive here is efficiency. Less time wasted on unproductive fishing means you fill your quota much more quickly. That's less fuel burned, less bait purchased, less time spent away from home, and potentially, increased safety. Fewer man-hours at sea = fewer casualties.
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Old 03-06-2011, 02:57 PM   #7
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Looking forward to reading Michael Lewis's "Moneyfish," in which a young, innovative fishing boat captain challenges the status quo fishing community and its history of superstition and intuition by exploiting market inefficiencies via modern technology and statistical analysis.
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Old 03-06-2011, 03:27 PM   #8
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I'm thinkig that it's the laws that prevent it. That probably qualifys as "fishing" in the eyes of the regulatory agency involved (DEC?), and those days are better spent dropping pots in hope of hitting the spot.

Plus, ROV use is not cheap. Those little machines are expensive, and renting/leasing them is probably not cost effective unless you're going for the big prizes like treasure ships and major historic finds like the Titanic.
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