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Aquacultural Engineering 6 (1987) 289-299

A Production-scale Towable Netpen for Efficient High-volume Transport of Pacific Herring: Design and Comparative Performance
H. Kreiberg and A. Solmie
Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Fisheries Research Branch, Pacific Biological Station, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada V9R 5K6

ABSTRACT A towable netpen unit based on commercial marina float components was developed to serve dual purposes of transport and holding of live Pacific herring in inshore waters of British Columbia. The rectangular netpen unit measures approximately 28 x 9 x 7 m deep and holds 25-30 tonnes of herring at densities of 8-16 kg m -3. The design was evaluated under field conditions including a comparison with two industry methods of live fish transport. Results over 4 years indicate the design to be seaworthy and flexible in application. As a mode offish transport, it offers high survival (97% to 8 weeks) and improved cost-efficiency over other methods tested. The towable netpen is considered useful for culture and transport of other fish species such as salmonids and gadids.

Fish cultural practices have, in recent years, received increasing use in traditional capture fisheries to prolong or enhance commercial harvests. Transfers over some distance to impoundments, with or without supplemental feeding, have constituted the main trend, e.g. for pollock in Norway (Bratland et al., 1976), and for sablefish (Bourne and Brett, 1985) and herring (Dickson, 1975; Gillis et al., 1982; Brett and Solmie, 1982) on the west coast of Canada. Consequently, fish handling and transfer processes have assumed a new significance with the requirement for high survival for extended periods. Methods of transport have expanded from use of the catching gear itself to include such innovations as well-boats (Egidius et al., 1983). However, most methods involve considerable handling of fish with brailing nets, often leading to injury and
mortality. 289

Aquacultural Engineering 0144-8609/87/S03.50--

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H. Kreiberg, A. Solmie

At the same time, the development of commercial aquaculture of salmonids has made available a range of floating impoundment designs, accompanied by expanded requirements for the handling and transport of large quantities of live fish, e.g. for transports between farm sites or releases at sea of fry and smolt for ocean ranching. Some of these requirements have been met by the use of live-barges, e.g. to carry juvenile salmon past a series of river dams (Ellis and Noble, 1960; McCabe etal., 1979). In the course of a 4-year research program at the Pacific Biological Station to develop an impoundment option for the British Columbia herring sac-roe fishery, we perceived a need for a commercial-scale impounding process more efficient than combinations of existing transport methods and fixed impoundments. Available transport techniques either gave good survival at high capital cost or vice versa. Here we describe and evaluate a commercial-scale floating netpen unit which we developed for the efficient combined transport and holding of an injurysensitive marine fish, the Pacific herring ( Clupea harengus pallasi). MATERIALS AND METHODS

Towable netpen
The 30.8 x 12 m float we used (Fig. 1) was supplied by a commercial manufacturer of float systems for marinas, built to a medium range strength specification (T-23-F, Topper Industries, Delta, B.C.).* It consisted of a wide-decked superstructure of pressure-treated fir in sections through-bolted together, with floatation from capped foam-filled auto tires. Floatation was installed at the rate of 57 kg per running meter, with approximately 500 kg additional reserve at each corner (to offset mooring-chain pull) and under the ends of a laminated transverse stiffening beam, and 275 kg centrally on each end of the float (to compensate for stresses while under way). The netpen measured 28 x 9 x 7 m deep and was built of white 22-mm stretched mesh knotless nylon. It was installed on the float using suspended 100-kg trim-anchors and running lines to the pen-floor via an eye on the trim-anchor to permit control from the surface. A taut box-like shape with a horizontal floor could thus be maintained. The structure was rated capable of withstanding waveamplitudes of 30 cm for short-wave (chop) and 75 cm for long-wave (swell) while maintaining a freeboard of 38 cm.
* Implies no official e n d o r s e m e n t .

Towable netpen for transport of Pacific herring


Fig. 1. The towable netpen. A: Top view showing reinforcements and spring lines; B: Perspective. netpen under way showing dynamic bow details; C: Netpen under way, side view showing trim-anchors in place.

Modifications for transporting live fish consisted of reinforcing the float with heavy diagonal angle-iron braces (Fig. 1A), attaching a tirecovered pushing cradle at the stem, hanging counterweights midway across the bow and stern faces of the netpen, and stitching a very soft knotless web liner over the stern end-panel. The pen unit could be moved empty by pulling the web up on the decking and swinging the trim-anchors up using retrieve lines; this served to prevent fouling of the rigging while moving at higher speeds. At the catch site, the trimanchors were swung down into normal position, and the netpen dropped and trimmmed square, a procedure requiting about 30 minutes and two crewmen. The pen was brought alongside and loaded from the catching seine using a temporary underwater gate made by lacing together with the top edges of the netpen and the seine, and sinking the joint with


H. Kreiberg, A. Solmie

chain. Pre-season field trials had established the best configuration for transport, i.e. with the support vessel pushing rather than towing, and with spring lines as in Fig. 1A. Underway, the two forward corner trimlines were freed, allowing the comers to fold back as in Fig. 1B, with the dynamic bow shape being held by the extra weight hung at the midpoint deep inside the netpen. At the holding site, the pen could either be offloaded via another 'swimming' transfer to a fixed holding unit, or connected to permanent moorings to serve as a holding unit. Further descriptions of the pen unit and transport modifications are given in Kreiberg etal. (1982, 1984).

Towed-seine transport
Fishermen in British Columbia's small impoundment fishery for herring spawn-on-kelp have to transfer live gravid herring from point of capture to a seapen containing kelp hung on ropes. The purse seines used for catching are adapted to move the fish by means of some rigging changes, as shown in Fig. 2. The seine is pursed shut, and the bunt end of the


Fig. 2. Perspective, rigging for towed-seine transport. Inset top shows normal underwater shape of stationary seine, inset bottom shows distortion of shape underway.

Towable netpen for transport of Pacific herring


corkline is attached to the bow of the main vessel. Gathers are made at several points along the length of the vessel to distribute the excess netmaterial evenly. The auxiliary power-skiff, attached by a bridle, tows the seiner broadside. Heavy counterweights are often suspended from the seiner into the net, to counter propeller-wash and drag effects which tend to collapse the seine. Standard purse seines carried by 18-20-m commercial seiners were used in the present work (approximate dimensions 400 50 m, 25 mm mesh).

Towed semi-submersible live-barge transport

A displacement hull of up to 75 tonnes gross is modified with ballast tanks allowing it to be submerged a further 2-4 m with the main holds flooded. Openings are made in the stern for a flanged loading gate, and along the sides for screened water-exchange ports. The flooded barge is loaded from a seine as shown in Fig. 3, and normally tows astern. For off-loading, the top edge of a receiving netpen is fitted around the flanged gate and the ballast tanks pumped dry. A small number of livebait wholesalers in British Columbia use live-barges for transport of seine-caught juvenile herring. Two such live-barges were chartered in the present work, one measuring 18 4 1 m draft (approximate 4-tonne fish capacity), the other measuring 20 5-5 1 m draft (approximate 6-tonne fish capacity).

The towable netpen unit was tested as a fixed impoundment for herring during field seasons in spring 1982 to 1985, both singly and in multiples, at the Pacific Biological Station's research fish farm at Nanaimo, British Columbia and at a field site in the nearby Gulf Islands. During interim periods, slight modifications permitted subdivision of the pen unit to accommodate groups of salmonids. The netpen was tested as a transport device using adult herring caught by chartered seiner in late January 1984, upper Gulf Islands, which were transferred directly from the point of capture to a holding site using the towable netpen. Additional catches of herring made within 24 h from the same body of wild fish were transferred to the holding site by towed seine and by live-barge. Holding conditions were standardized for handling and density (8 kg m-3). The three groups of herring were monitored for survival and normal maturation over the next 8 weeks, and were released on 22 March 1984. The towable netpen was tested again in March 1985 for transport and hold-



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Inset shows

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is b e i n g fitted.

Towable netpen for transport of Pacific herring


ing of herring. We assessed cost-efficiency based on our own budgeting data and information gathered from commercial fishermen on charter. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Fixed impoundment phase

The towable netpen we describe here was used successfully alongside other smaller fixed netpens for over 4 years, including several 2-month periods in field locations. Pacific herring in quantities of up to 30 tonnes were held for periods of up to 4 months with no evident design problems. Handling of the netpen for sampling, removal of dead, and transfers to other netpens was easily done manually by a small crew of two or three persons. The simple construction permitted breakdown into sections which could be rafted together for convenient towing to a distant site. The long rectangular plan of the float was well suited for subdivision to house a number of groups of herring or salmonids in separate smaller pens. The fuU-size netpen was especially suited to a schooling fish like the herring, allowing groups of many tonnes of fish to school naturally and to sound in response to surface disturbances. Some of our towable netpens have been in salt water since 1982, and indications are that the expected 7-10 year fife-span will be met. Details on experience in rigging, handling and servicing this large netpen design are given in Kreiberg et al. (1982).

Live transport phase

The towable netpen gave excellent performance as a high-capacity transport method, when compared to other established methods under practically identical conditions. Survival of herring transported in the towable netpen was 97% to 8 weeks, compared to 100% for the live-barge and 79% for the towed seine (Fig. 4). The latter two survivals are typical of the respective methods, although for seine-towing, the survival often drops as low as 60% despite shorter holding periods (Shields et al., 1985). The improvement in survival over the towed-seine method is significant at the probability level P < 0.001 (slope comparisons, logtransformed mortality curves). Converting a fixed netpen for towing consisted in practice merely of stitching in the soft end-liner, hanging the bow and stern counterweights and releasing appropriate lines. The extra comer braces, counterweights and towing fender were normally left in place once installed. The total


H. Kreiberg, A. Solmie


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Fig. 4.

Cumulative mortality of herring in three holding pens after transport from capture point to holding site. Impoundment term 53 days.

cost of the alterations amounted to less than 8% of a netpen's capital cost (1983) of $25 000 Canadian. The audible presence of the pushing vessel at the stern of the netpen kept fish concentrated in the bow zone, swimming readily. An underwater light hung off the vessel was used to augment this effect at times; it was found that herring were transported less stressfully by night than by day. The long rectangular geometry of the netpen permitted better handling of bow-entry drag than would a square or circular netpen. Implications for fish culture Our objective in this work was to improve the overall efficiency of operations requiring both occasional live transport and sustained holding of large quantities of fish. The development of the towable netpen yielded the desirable biological efficiency of expensive live-barges while maintaining the cost-efficiency typical of towed-seine transport. The main saving is in the dual purposes to which a single capital expenditure for a netpen can be put. For any operation involving fish holding, an enclosure is an unavoidable expense. The inexpensive towing-modifications to our netpen result in a comparatively low transport cost, as indicated in the cost-efficiency summary (Table 1). We feel that the capital cost of our

Towable netpen for transport of Pacific herring


TABLE 1 Cost-efficiency Comparison of Towable Netpen to Two Other Live-transport Methods

Survival to 8 weeks (%) L o a d capacity per deliver3, (tonnes) Top speed (km h - J) Handling time per delivery (person-hours) Range (kin) 75 70 0.4 6 3

100 6 6"5 6 150

97 30 0"9 9 30-50 a

Capital cost (S000) Capital cost, alterations for transport (S) Expected life of alterations (years) Operating cost: daily rental (S) or annual depreciation on alterations (S) Transport cost per tonne of survivors, maximum load (S) Gear-cost to deliver 50 tonnes within travel range (S)" 500 ~ 300 10 30

---2200' -45 1350

75 0 20 0 N / Aa N/Ad

-500 -83 2500

25 b 2000 7 300 10 500

N/A '~
N / Aa

"Travelling for 3 - 4 nights acceptable weather, tides. h For information only. Since the gear will be used also for another necessary operation, this expense is c o m m o n to all three methods. ' Includes crewed seiner while in transit. '~Varies extremely with number of other tasks gear is depreciated against. "Fuel. crew costs for travel additional, slightly higher cost for longer runs with barge or netpen.

design, although certain to be higher than such alternatives as the logboom analogue speculated upon (Barber, 1980), will be fully compensated by its suitability as a work platform. Sea-lions are able to climb over log-booms with much greater ease than over a high raised-deck float. The decking also increases crew safety at night and in bad weather, and can eliminate some requirements for a support vessel. Some compromises were necessary; for example, the towable netpen sacrifices high speed to permit cheap high-volume transport. However, for any transport method which requires fish to swim to the destination, the maximum cruising speed of the fish cannot be exceeded. This means low transport speeds of 1-3 km h- 1 for many fish. The towable netpen's range is greatly extended over the towed seine (or other catching gear) by virtue of the structure and defined shape of the enclosure. This has the


H. Kreiberg, A. Solrnie

effect of minimizing harmful contact between netting and fish, and allows the unit to be left safely at anchor or adrift if circumstances require. The box-like shape also minimizes likely predator damage to fish incurred en route. Our experience with herring and salmonids leads us to favor the method of 'swimming' fish from pen to pen via temporary link-ups. The towable netpen permits this method of transfer, as do the other methods we used, but includes the option of no transfer required, if an operator chooses simply to use the netpen as a fixed impoundment upon reaching the destination. The float design we used was based on commercially available marina components. It is compatible with a wide range of inshore coastal sea conditions, and we believe that the towable netpen design we describe has potentially wide application to fish culture operations using various non-benthic marine and anadromous fish.

ACKNOWI .EDGEMENT This work was carried out with funding support from the Fisheries Development Program of the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Drs J. R. Brett and C. Clarke kindly reviewed the manuscript.

REFERENCES Barber, E G. (1980). Pink salmon disparity: toward definition. Can. MS Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci., No. 1594, 20 pp. Bourne, N. & Brett, J. R. (1985). Aquaculture in British Columbia. Spec. Publ. Can. Fish. Aquat. Sci., 75, 28-45. Bratland, P., Krishnan, S. & Sundnes, G. (1976). Studies on the long term storage of living saithe, Pollachius virens. FiskDir. Skr. Ser. HavUnders., 16, 279-300. Brett, J. R. & Solmie, A. (1982). Roe herring impoundment research -- report on the 1980/81 studies. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci., No. 1061, 51 pp. Dickson, F. V. (1975). Summary of the 1975 trial herring spawn on kelp fishery in British Columbia. Fish. Mar. Serv., Canadian Department of the Environment. Egidius, E., Braaten, B., Andersen, K. & Gokstad, S. L. (1983). Vibriosis in saithe (Pollachius virens) populations of the Norwegian coast. Rapp. P.-v. Reun. Cons. Int. Explor. Mer, 182, 103-105. Ellis, C. H. & Noble, R. E. (1960). Barging and hauling experiments with fall chinook salmon on the Klickitat River to test effects on survivals. Wash. Dept Fish., 70th Annual Report, 57-71. Giilis, D. J., Whiting, C. A., Radley, R. A., Wilcox, J. E. S., Ross, M. D. & Jackson, K. (1982). Herring impoundment and pumping operations. Factors

Towable netpenfor transport of Pacific herring


affecting the quality of roe herring products. Can. Ind. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci., No. 130, 61 pp. Kreiberg, H., Brett, J. R. & Solmie, A. (1982). Roe herring impoundment research report on the 1981/1982 studies. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci., No. 1149, 45 pp. Kreiberg, H., Brett, J. R. & Solmie, A. (1984). Roe herring impoundment research report on the 1983-1984 studies. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci., No. 1329, 31 pp. McCabe, G. T., Long, C. W. & Park, D. L. (1979). Barge transportation of juvenile salmonids of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, 1977. Mar. Fish. Rev., 41 (7), 28-34. Shields, T., Jamieson, G. S. & Sprout, P. E. (1985). Spawn-on-kelp fisheries in the Queen Charlotte Islands and Northern British Columbia coast -- 1982 and 1983. Cab. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci., No. 1372, 53 pp.