All caught up: one teen tackles the problem of abandoned fishing gear

Several years ago, Rachel Lopez, now a senior at Rio Rancho High School in New Mexico, learned that large numbers of seals, whales, dolphins, turtles, and other creatures get caught in abandoned fishing nets every year. “In 2006, more than 30,000 fur seals were killed off the Pacific Coast because of [abandoned] nets. It is a growing problem,” she says. That prompted Rachel to focus her science fair project every year since then on finding a better net.


Net monitor keeps the fishing gear aligned: Trawlmaster uses acoustic sensors to track trawl doors

One thing about towing a net behind your boat is that once the net and doors drop beneath the surface and head toward the bottom, it’s pretty much a crapshoot as to what’s happening.

You can overspread the gear and not know it. A sweep can break, and you won’t discover it until you haul the gear aboard. Everybody else can be catching fish, and even though the shine on the doors looks just right, you’re just dragging water.