R.I. innovator develops ‘ropeless’ lobster fishing technology

Updated 9:32 a.m., March 29

HAYDEN RADKE, an engineer at DBV Technology, works with Ropeless RISER technology in Narragansett Bay. / COURTESY ROPELESS SYSTEMS
HAYDEN RADKE, an engineer at DBV Technology, works with Ropeless RISER technology in Narragansett Bay. / COURTESY ROPELESS SYSTEMS

NORTH KINGSTOWN — Traditional lobster and crab traps operate through a simple mechanism, using ropes and buoys. But the traps have created a mess of problems for marine life.

Harold “Bud” Vincent, president of DBV Technology LLC in North Kingstown, believes he has the solution: one of his company’s signature products, the RISER.

The RISER – remote instrumentation and submerged equipment recovery” – had mostly been used by navies and oceanographers, but Vincent saw use for the technology for fishing. To tailor this technology, Vincent co-founded Ropeless Systems Inc., where he serves as chief technology officer.

While traditional lobster and crab traps are rigged by rope to a buoy, the Ropeless RISER uses underwater acoustics to send signals from a fishing vessel to gear on the ocean floor. This signal triggers an underwater bag on the trap to inflate with air, bringing the fishing equipment to the surface for unloading and reuse.

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With traditional traps, “those buoys and lines cause entanglements of whales and other marine animals, resulting in injury and death to the animals,” Vincent said.

Passing ships can also rip a buoy or line off traditional traps, and fishers often leave the abandoned gear on the ocean floor. 

“The gear is just not valuable enough for anyone to worry about trying to get it back,” Vincent said. Still, it poses an environmental hazard. 

Discarded fishing materials, known as “ghost gear,” comprise at least 10% of ocean litter, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. In addition to trapping and killing animals, ghost gear damages ocean habitats such as coral reefs. 

Though still in the research and development phase, with a patent pending and other patents in the works, the technology has been in use for about a year and a half in commercial fishing. Vincent estimates around 10 to 15 different fishers have trialed the gear in maritime Massachusetts, Maine, Scotland and Canada.

At customers’ requests, the company has also adapted the technology to display on chart plotters, which allow fishers to see the gear’s position on the ocean floor. 

To Vincent, the economic and environmental benefits of the technology are clear. In addition to reducing environmental concerns, he said, the Ropeless RISER can save time and money spent on replacing lost gear.

But Vincent’s target audience hasn’t been as easy to sell on the technology.

“It’s a very difficult, emotional topic for a lot of people,” Vincent said, “because many fishermen are completely, adamantly opposed to trying this new type of technology.”

Some may be hesitant to part with traditional fishing methods, Vincent said, and at around $2,500 for an order of 20 traps, the cost can be a deterrent.

Despite this resistance, the technology has fielded additional interest, according to Vincent.

“We are generating revenue, but we are severely impacted by the global electronic chip shortage,” Vincent said, “so we’re having customers requesting product right now, and we’re not able to generate it.” 

The same chips used in the Ropeless RISER are used to manufacture cars, TVs and cellphones, leaving the company to compete with industrial giants such as Toyota and Samsung for the parts. 

But if the company can increase manufacturing and sales, the company intends to lower the cost of the technology, Vincent said.

Manufacturing will mostly take place in Maine, where Ropeless Systems is based because of the state’s large lobster-fishing industry, with engineering development handled in Rhode Island.

UPDATE: Corrects Harold “Bud” Vincent’s name

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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