What it does
Whales are getting caught and dying in lobster and crab fishing equipment. To solve this problem, we developed a rope-on-demand system that stores the rope underwater until the fisher retrieves the traps. Our device will help prevent the extinction of whales.
One of our close friend is from a lobster fishing family in Atlantic Canada, and through this connection we learned about the Canadian and American federal government's proposed legislation to require fishers to use whale safe gear, starting in 2024. We also learned that current solutions are insufficient and too expensive to be adapted and could end up jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishers in eastern Canada and northeastern USA. We therefore set out to create a design that not only kept whales safe, but also did not destroy the industry that so many depend on.
How it works
Lobster and crab fishing involves launching traps that sink to the bottom of the ocean and sit there for days. Ropes are attached to these traps and go from the bottom to the top of the ocean to aid in locating and recovering. These ropes are where whales are becoming tangled and dying. Our solution is a rope-on-demand system that stops these ropes from floating for days to mere minutes. Our system attaches to equipment in the same way as adding an additional trap, which allows it to be launched in the same way. The system then sinks to the bottom of the ocean with the traps until the fisher returns. When the fisher is ready to recover their catch, they simply send an acoustic signal from our onboard deck box. This tells the underwater unit to rotate a magnetic latch to release the buoyant spool which floats to the surface, allowing for the same recovery method to be used. The acoustic system also allows for the locating of traps.
We consulted with fishers and marine biologists to develop a set of requirements and constraints. We then came up with a preliminary design that involved a buoyant spool, a latch to hold it in place, and an acoustic release mechanism. A magnetic latch was decided upon as it could be completely sealed inside the unit to avoid corrosion. It took many iterations to refine this design. The first concept was an electromagnet design, but through experimentation it was found that too much power would be required. Through more research and experimentation, a design was created with a permanent magnet system that had two configurations: one with close to no pull strength and another with a large pull strength. The strength could be changed by simply changing the alignment of the magnets. A 3D printed prototype was created and tested. It proved the concept of the idea, but was not able to show the true strength as the housing would break. A second prototype was made out of aluminum and was shown to be able to lift 105 lbs. This latch was added to an early design of the overall system with a functioning acoustic release system. Fatigue testing was performed on the latch and showed galling after close to 5 years of simulated use. Learnings from this are being used to update next designs.
How it is different
Our magnetic latch, which is used to hold the spool, is unique to the industry. It has lower energy consumption than alternatives as it only uses power when it receives a signal, and it can be completely protected from the environment, allowing it to be much more reliable than our competitors. It also does not produce metallic waste, unlike a competitor who uses burn wire to release traps.
Our goal is to further develop our system and have it on the market when whale safe fishing becomes mandated. We are aiming to test our full prototype this summer and use learning from this to inform the final design of our MVP. The MVP will be refined this winter for manufacturing, and the first generation should be ready for further testing next summer. We are now beginning our relationship with the Canadian government to ensure our device meets their regulations and have it approved for use by fishers as soon as possible. We hope to get our products in the hands of fishers for the beginning of the next lobster fishing season.
1st Place, Innovative Design, 3 engineering competitions: University level: Waterloo (December 2022), Provincial level: Ontario (January 2023), National level: Canada (February 2023); Best Prototype Award, University of Waterloo Mechanical Engineering Capstone (March 2023); Winner, Velocity $5k Pitch (March 2023)