In June, our customer success manager, Pete, had the opportunity to travel to Pasaia, a port town just along the road from San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country, to join AZTI and Marport for the initial tests of our SmartGear. We were convening in Spain to bring together the various elements of SmartGear, a system that uses light technology to optimise the catching performance of trawl fishing gear. Our objective was to carry out initial tests to make sure everything works before SmartGear is trialled on a commercial vessel at the end of June.

Testing a product is incredibly exciting and an opportunity that is few and far between due to the pandemic. So much can be learnt from throwing some technology over the side of a ship, in this case, AZTI’s Emma Barden, and seeing what happens. Therefore, it’s fantastic to be a part of the SMARTFISH project.

In this blog, we wanted to detail the steps we took to make these tests happen and highlight the best bits of Pete’s trip.

SafteyNet Technologies SmartGear components next to the Emma Barden


1. Planning is Essential!

Meticulous planning is essential for a successful project.

Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success” and he wasn’t wrong. A five-day trip to test the technologies of SNTech and Marport, before SMARTFISH trials this June, required months of planning. It takes a lot of work to get representatives from three organisations (AZTI, Marport and SNTech) and three countries (Spain, France, and UK respectively) to work together on one trial. There is a sprawling list of items to be sorted out which includes shipping equipment from the various project participants and their respective countries, buying plane tickets and deciding the trial objectives to name a few. Thankfully, all parties were able to coordinate effectively which is amazing considering much of the planning was conducted over email and video calls.


2. You Can’t Plan for Everything!

Try as you might, it’s impossible to plan for everything. Something will always pop up that you hadn’t anticipated.

Unfortunately, no amount of planning could have prepared us for the double whammy that was Covid-19 and Brexit. Both factors added extra steps to processes that would have otherwise been very straight forward, like travelling to another country. Although these steps were annoying and created slight delays, they were hardly spanners in the works.

Firstly, all necessary Covid-19 protocols were in place and observed before, during and after the initial SMARTFISH tests in Pasaia, Spain. Before we could book any flights to Spain, we needed to procure an invitation letter from AZTI to support the visit. Once the documentation was assessed and our trip got the green light, it was a matter of working out the ever-changing Covid-19 regulations we had to follow. Spain, France, and the UK all have different rules for entering and leaving under the current circumstances. This involved presenting a negative PCR test to enter Spain and come aboard the vessel and presenting another negative PCR test to re-enter the UK followed by 10 days of quarantine with further ‘Day 2’ and ‘Day 8’ PCR tests.

Thanks to Brexit, getting equipment into Spain proved harder than getting people there. New customs rules caused delays and we almost didn’t have batteries to power our tech! Thankfully, everything came together in the end, and we had a successful trip.


3. Awesome Things Happen When We Work Together

Teamwork is limited by working remotely. By being together, we achieved incredible things in just a few days.

One of the most valuable aspects of the initial SMARTFISH tests was the ability to spend time working directly with people from different teams. After months of remote working, we were especially grateful to work alongside AZTI and Marport. As a team, we combined our different expertise to produce SmartGear.

AZTI brings scientific expertise in analysing the effectiveness of the SmartGear during the trials. Marpot in turn designs and manufactures technology that enables SmartGear to be controlled from the wheelhouse even during use on a net. Alongside SNTech’s experience in creating Precision Fishing technologies, we developed a system that helps fishing crews to fish more selectively. SmartGear enables this by using light to guide bycatch out of the fishing net.

Attaching SmartGear to the nets

To ensure that the initial tests were successful, we co-designed a robust trial protocol with Marine Science Scotland. In the past, they have conducted trials with SmartGear, SNTech and Marport.

Once aboard the Emma Barden (AZTI’s research ship), we finally get hands on and fit SmartGear to the net together. We collectively solved any problems that arose and as a result, SmartGear worked as planned. As well as sharing knowledge, it was also great to share insights from the different teams, learning about our respective needs and challenges.


4. Innovation

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”- Margaret Heffernan

Innovation is the driving force behind the EU Blue Economy Strategy. Therefore, it is exciting to be a part of SMARTFISH, which is at the forefront of the shift to a sustainable Blue Economy. New technologies can support fisheries as they improve their sustainability. Reducing the negative impact of fishing won’t only benefit the marine ecosystem but will ensure the industry remains stable and resilient in the face of climate change. By using innovative SmartGear, coastal communities can reshape their economies whilst becoming key stewards of the oceans.

SmartGear initial trials in the sea

The SmartGear trials in June are an amazing opportunity to see what a fishery led by innovation would look like. Additionally, we will get a good idea of how well our fishing gear works in situ. SmartGear should help a fishing crew and not be a hindrance. It is essential that the technology is easy to use and fits seamlessly with current fishing operations. SMARTFISH provides an incredible opportunity to work directly with key stakeholders like commercial fishing crews. Only by handing SmartGear to a fishing crew to use will we understand how well the technology works in situ. This kind of testing always throws up new and important insights.

Not only do these fishing crews try out SmartGear, but they also provide invaluable feedback on it. Feedback is not only incredibly important and is highly influential in our development process but also to innovation in general. Through talking with stakeholders, we gain incredible insights into the challenges they face and what they need, what works well, and what doesn’t. During these chats, they tell us how well the gear worked for them and provide suggestions of what would improve it.

5. Siesta

With projects like SMARTFISH, you never stop learning.

Even during downtimes, this trip was the gift that kept on giving. These moments were some of our favourites. It was a real treat to be able to chat with members of the different teams to learn more about each other’s backgrounds and cultures. Over delicious Spanish food, we were able to collaborate more informally and strengthen our partnerships.

Pete and Baptiste having dinner at Bar Nestor, San Sebastian

Article and pictures provided by our partners at SafetyNet Technologies