Pesquera Azul: Catch Technology Revolution

Pesquera Azul
Pesquera Azul’s longline fishing vessel F/V Ocean Azul (Photo: Pesquera Azul)

Published Nov 6, 2023 3:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

[By: Pesquera Azul]

Captain Shane Jennings, the master of fishing company Pesquera Azul’s customised vessel F/V Ocean Azul, explains what makes the ship one of a kind and how its pioneering Sago Extreme catch protection system can solve the urgent challenge of whale depredation while promoting the sustainability of the longline fishing industry.

Whales snatching fish off the hooks as lines are hauled in presents a serious challenge for the longline fishing industry, especially for fatty fish species such as Patagonia toothfish. In subantarctic fishing grounds with a strong whale presence such as South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, the Prince Edwards Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (South Africa) and east of the Kerguelen Islands (Australia), whale depredation has become so serious that it threatens the entire economic viability of fishing operations.

“With whales around, the chances of catching your quota are slim to none. In South Georgia, I've seen a pod of orcas eat 10 tons of toothfish in a day on the averages I was getting per line. I realize whales have to eat, but the population has been steadily increasing and this is easy pickings by an order of magnitude,” says Jennings, a New Zealander with 41 years’ experience running trawler and long-liners around New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Samoa, Australia, South Georgia and Antarctica. He joined Pesquera Azul as master of the 690-dwt Ocean Azul last year.

Jennings says forfeiting so much catch means ships have to spend a lot more time fishing to achieve their quota. That and having to sail a long way to escape the whales, results in much higher fuel consumption and costs, and not least emissions. The common challenge is how to achieve quotas in the shortest possible time, while avoiding using sound or other distressing methods to discourage whales. “We desperately need a sustainable solution, both to protect fish stocks – toothfish take around 15 years to reach adulthood – and to ensure the future of the longline industry.”

Innovative in practice
Norway/Uruguay-based Pesquera Azul has been involved in the ongoing development and testing of a patented solution to the problem for the past five years. Designed by Norwegian company SagoSolutions AS, the Sago Extreme system features a lightweight aluminium catch cage that is secured at the end of a line when it is set and runs back up the line as it is hauled in. Hooked fish are gathered safely within the cage, which is received directly into the ship through a unique moon-pool module, which Pesquera Azul also helped develop. The cage also enables catch improvement in heavy seas versus conventional methods where a lot of fish can be lost.

The Ocean Azul is the only ship worldwide equipped to use the technology, although it can also operate as a conventional auto liner. At first, Jennings thought the system would be time consuming to deploy, but was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to set up and handle. “All the Ocean Azul crew are well drilled in how it works. From the cage arriving in the pool to taking it off the line and deploying another one takes a matter of minutes,” he says.

Exceptional results
He supervised further live tests of catch cages during this summer’s toothfish season in the Prince Edward Islands fishery south of South Africa, with exceptional results. “We were the only vessel in the area and the killer whales were relentless. Using the Sago system, we had loads of fish coming up as opposed to just a bunch of worthless fish lips. It proves the technology really works. Now I can’t imagine working without it in areas swimming with whales. You’d have to stay put all year long to achieve the same result.”

There has been a lot of interest in the technology from fishing authorities looking for ways to enhance the sustainability of the longline fleet – and with continuous improvement Pesquera Azul is confident it can achieve a near-100% catch rate. Jennings sees a bright future ahead. “The technology saves time and money and will enable fishing again in waters with a lot of whales. Without it I suspect whale depredation could get worse and worse around the world.”

Designed for top performance
The 72.5-metre-long Ocean Azul was completely rebuilt and all technical systems replaced in 2022 at the LOS Marine facility on Bømlo south of Bergen. The hull is ice-class A1 and ideally suited to the harsh conditions of the southern oceans. 

“During the summer we experienced everything the southern Indian Ocean can throw at you. Endless storms and very tough seas – but in these conditions the ship is in its element. Because of its size and weight it is extremely stable and provides a superior working platform. Even in 50-knot winds and five to six-metre waves, you can still put your coffee mug down without it tipping over. The spacious working area makes it a very safe for the crew with non-skid grating throughout, including in the moon pool room,” says Jennings.

The moon pool is located in the stern of the vessel, whereas most vessels with a moon pool have them midships to forward. “Being in the stern made it easier to fit the gear needed to run the Sago system, but it works just fine and the vessel is very responsive to drive the line. With eight years longlining for toothfish under my belt, I can definitely say the moon pool, Sago system, hook capacity, together with the Ocean Azul’s size, makes it state of the art for the industry,” he adds.

Comfort means a lot
The wheelhouse has all the latest electronics, and a lot of thought went into the designing the layout of the chairs and screens to make it user friendly. As a responsible employer Pesquera Azul also invested in an optimal living and working environment for the crew. “The accommodation is well-appointed with plenty of space in the cabins and communal areas, which is great for the crew to relax between shifts. I’ve worked on a lot of ships and the Ocean Azul is one of the most modern and comfortable. That’s very important when you’re away from home for months,” Jennings says.

Now 57, he grew up in a small crayfishing community an hour north of Christchurch on New Zealand’sSouth Island. He started fishing on a crayfishing boat at 16 years old and gained his skipper’s ticket to run a crayfishing boat at 18. He has no regrets working in commercial fishing all his life. “It’s demanding but at the same time very rewarding, not least when you work for a company like Pesquera which is doing all it can to make the industry more sustainable,” he concludes.

The products and services herein described in this press release are not endorsed by The Maritime Executive.