Clearwater Seafoods Uses GIS to Improve Efficiency and Sustainability

When the executives of Clearwater Seafoods met an expert in ocean mapping, it opened a new window into the underwater world. “It just blew us away because all we had were ocean surface maps,” said Jim Mosher, director of Harvest Science at Clearwater. “Now all of a sudden we could see the outline and shape of the ground. It was a spectacle. “

The Nova Scotia-based brand specializes in luxury seafood, including scallops, clams, crab, shrimp and lobster that it harvests primarily on the seabed of the Canadian coast.

Some of Clearwater’s catch, like clams, actually live in the seabed, creating houses in the silt and mud known as the substrate. Catching these inhabitants of the seabed is labor intensive and expensive. A company like Clearwater needs to know when and where to harvest, but also when and where not harvest to protect the resource and the environment. Seabed models, produced with a geographic information system (GIS), provide an additional tool to improve harvesting operations and the sustainability of practices.

“Rather than the traditional method of just going out to sea, we do a lot of pre-trip planning,” Mosher said. “We have moved the operation from an operation that detects and reacts to an operation that predicts and then acts, targeting fishing sites with great precision. Our whole mindset has changed with the increased availability of robust data and maps over the years. “

Tales of topographic oceans

Following their meeting with the mapping expert, Mosher’s team began to invest heavily in technology to create bathymetric maps of habitats, topographic seabed maps with detailed depth contours to show the size. , shape and distribution of underwater features. Then they started to map the types of sediment.

“We knew that some of these species that feed by filtration, like scallops, don’t like living on sand because they choke, so they aggregate on gravel,” Mosher said. “So all of a sudden we were aiming for gravel patches. But what we were doing was still very rude, compared to what we have today.

Mosher’s team continued to collect data on seabed types, rock structures, and other oceanographic conditions in the ecosystem, which function as layers on a base map. Layers can be combined to achieve ever increasing location intelligence. Bathymetric information can be superimposed on current and past fishing practices to determine best practices.

Before setting sail

Clearwater’s precision approach is about corporate responsibility. In Canada, companies are granted rights in a specific fishery to hunt specific species; a company like Clearwater sees it as its mission to be stewards of the ocean to protect its assets through responsible fishing practices.

When a Clearwater vessel sets sail to pick up a catch, the procedure varies by species. To target the scallops, a ship measuring between 140 and 150 feet, carries a crew of 16 people.

Scallop harvesting often involves an extensive pre-planning expedition with a survey vessel carried out in conjunction with other industry stakeholders. The Clearwater team are able to mark a potential fishing area and divide it into individual grid cells on a smart map, using ArcGIS Pro. They use an underwater camera to capture images of the seabed that help understand the makeup of species.

“We scan the images, count the scallops in the grids and do some analysis to generate density models, and we map all of that,” Mosher explained. For clam operations, captains will rely on “backscatter” maps that use multibeam technology to identify substrate hardness. These cards have multiple uses. Clearwater’s work helps them understand the biomass in specific areas, knowing that this allows him to calculate how quickly an area will rebound.

Fundy Leader serves as both a scallop harvesting vessel and Clearwater’s research vessel, performing video surveys and rake surveys to assess the condition of scallop beds.

Clearwater is partnering with academic institutions in Nova Scotia to create thematic maps. “Geology, sediment, backscatter – and on top of that, we’re adding our survey layers,” Mosher said. “And of course we have catch data on maps that show exactly where the vessel has been in the past, so we’re not going to fish where we were last.”

Before a fishing trip, a vessel’s captain will study these map layers to make plans. Data will travel on board as each vessel is equipped with ArcGIS Pro on deck. “It has become such a huge tool for them that a lot of people won’t go out to sea without it,” Mosher said.

A vertically integrated company that processes and distributes its catch, Clearwater dresses its ships into floating factories. Their GIS offers the possibility of organizing and seeing all the information related to each facet of the shellfish populations they harvest for optimal efficiency. It allows Clearwater to pursue its objectives related to sustainability, but also to traceability for food safety, and to transmit the origin of each catch. In this way, the GIS becomes a four-dimensional tool, cataloging space and time for the current capture and all past captures.

Changing ethics

Extensive mapping can generate immediate gains. However, Clearwater executives see the time and money their teams devote to mapping as a long-term investment, enabling the company to embrace a sustainable business model that marine development experts call blue growth. The alternative is a short-sighted emphasis on immediate gains.

With increasing amounts of high-quality data, Clearwater teams are using their knowledge to forecast and predict harvest results. They use sophisticated assessment models that determine growth stages and logging activities to avoid returning to the same fishing grounds until the appropriate time has passed. Clearwater also takes into account weather influences, species biology, and other relevant details to determine the most efficient harvesting methods.

This approach improves success rates and efficiency. Clearwater spends less time finding an outlet that reduces carbon footprints and operational expenses. The company’s sustainability efforts have helped maintain its Marine Stewardship Council certification – a coveted sustainability badge – for its adherence to strict environmental and production standards.

“We are really in the process of shifting the operation from just seeing ourselves as hunters to one of culture and education,” Mosher explained. “In order to be able to observe the seabed and understand the characteristics of the population, these are the tools we need to do so. It supports our company’s sustainability goals.

Find out how organizations are applying geospatial knowledge to drive sustainable prosperity.

About the Author

Corey nelson

Corey Nelson is the Atlantic Region Director for Esri Canada. His efforts are aimed at helping organizations transform their businesses through GIS and location-based solutions. With over 21 years of GIS and Business Development experience, Corey leads the Esri Canada Atlantic team to empower organizations across the region to solve problems and see opportunities that others cannot. to location intelligence.


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Tanya S. Norvell