Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Danger, Will Robinson!


January 1, 2019

If you were lost in space, a robot would be a good friend to have. Here on Planet Earth, robots are more and more being seen as the enemy, replacing telemarketers, assembly line workers, janitors and fast food staffs. You’re not worried, though- right?

Not so fast – a group of undergraduate students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts is building an autonomous underwater robot designed to hunt for and harvest lionfish- an invasive species that threatens marine ecosystems from the Caribbean to the coasts of Florida and Georgia. As well as being a threat to indigenous species, the fish is also a pricey delicacy that can bring up to $20 a pound.

The first team has developed several systems that will enable the submersible robot to distinguish lionfish from other species and spear them, offering a more efficient and safe way to harvest the fish, which have poisonous spines that are painful to touch.

Unlike commercial robots directed by an operator connected by a tether, the WPI robot will be untethered and will hunt for fish on its own, without human direction. Once it recognizes a lionfish, it will change course to intercept it and spear it. The buoyant spear tip will detach and float the fish to the surface to be collected. A fisherman could use multiple robots to maximize his catch.

The robot has a revolving carousel that holds eight detachable spear tips. A motorized mechanism connects to a metal shaft that thrusts the spear tips into the fish.

This academic year, a second team will focus on the robot’s global navigation system, which will enable it to autonomously establish and navigate a three-dimensional search grid as it seeks lionfish.

Thousands of tasks have been automated, and many of the industries involved predicted widespread unemployment that didn’t materialize. Longshoremen, factory workers and farmers have all seen their industries improve through the use of robots.

Could a robot replace commercial fishermen? Perhaps. More likely, it will make a fisherman’s job easier and safer. We don’t expect to see hordes of these fishing robots swimming autonomously in Bristol Bay, but you never know.

The real danger to fishermen, it seems, continues to be environmental groups.

A well-known fishermen’s association has filed a lawsuit against a group of petroleum producers, claiming their product caused climate change, which the group believes is contributing to ocean acidification and causing forced closures of West Coast Dungeness crab fisheries. The suit claims the energy providers failed to warn their clients about the effects fossil fuels have on the climate.

The association, PCFFA, has long advocated on behalf of the commercial fisherman. For 40 years it was led by Zeke Grader, an attorney who worked tirelessly for the commercial fisherman, representing their economic as well as environmental interests.

He was difficult to replace. After he left, Tim Sloane assumed the role of director for two years before leaving to join the law firm of Sher Edling, which is the firm representing PCFFA in its lawsuit against 30 energy producers, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Citco, et cetera. If you use petroleum products, the chances are pretty good you’re a client of a defendant. Count on your prices to increase.

Sher Edling is a well-known climate litigant, representing states and municipalities in lawsuits against oil companies they claim are the creators of global warming, and unlike fishermen, lawyers usually get paid regardless of outcome, which makes suing oil companies pretty lucrative.

This column has often warned that the environmentalist organizations that pretend to be on the side of the fishermen shouldn’t be trusted. The only winners in the global warming game are the attorneys and environmental groups “suing on your behalf.” They believe your boat’s fuel, your gear and your product are causing climate change. Who do you think their next target will be?

Forget the robots- the real danger to your business is probably a lawyer.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email:


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