Ross Arsenault, co-founder and COO of Nova Scotia’s Ashored Innovations, is feeling hopeful. Though his ocean tech start-up is less than two years old, in that short time he’s seen big changes in attitudes towards ocean sustainability and plastic pollution. “The ocean is getting more and more attention. Things like plastic straw bans might be small in scale but they help people understand the issue,” says Arsenault. “It makes me optimistic.”
Spurred by growing numbers of North Atlantic right whale deaths and the economic impact on local fishers, Arsenault and his Ashored co-founders wanted to find a solution that would help fishers maintain their livelihood while protecting sea life. Their solution? Ropeless fishing.
Locally he’s seeing growing support for positive changes in the industry, such as the Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship (COVE), where Ashored is a tenant start-up, and Canada’s Ocean Supercluster. Internationally, he points to the company’s recent success at MassChallenge, a global network of zero-equity start-up accelerators, where Ashored was one of 12 start-ups awarded cash prizes last month. “To get the recognition we did shows there is opportunity and a pathway to create meaningful change in the industry,” says Arsenault.
Part of what’s needed to create lasting change, Arsenault believes, is more collaboration between industry stakeholders such as fishers, business and government. Fishers shouldn’t be expected to “do all the heavy lifting. They need to be supported by the government during the transition,” he says.
Collaboration has been a big part of Ashored’s approach. From the beginning, the company has involved fishers in product development and incorporated their feedback into their ropeless buoy systems for trap fishing. This approach has accelerated the design process and identified more opportunities for them to help fishers improve sustainability and their profitability.
“We’re still iterating the product with them, doing pilot tests before launching to the industry,” says Arsenault. “We’re now getting requests from fishers to take part in pilots, which speaks for itself.”
The company is still pre-revenue but will be soft launching their ropeless tech in 2020, with other products also under development. Arsenault expects the 6-person company to grow to 10 or 12 in the next year. In addition to opportunities within Canada, they’ve seen interest in ropeless gear from Europe and California, and for ropeless gear beyond its use in trap fishing.
“The technology used for ropeless trap fishing can transfer to other types of commercial fishing, so we can have a greater impact,” says Arsenault. “The opportunities for the whole industry to address our ocean plastics challenge are pretty close to endless.”
Find out more about Ashored Innovations.