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Independence Marine – Product Description

Technology Concept

Whale Awayä works by emitting a signal that alerts cetaceans (marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises) to the presence of something unusual in the water, similar to the way flashing road lights alert drivers to the presence of danger. The mammal then cautiously approaches the noise and the nets to which the unit is attached. Once the mammal learns of the hazard, it is much less likely to become entrapped in it (please see Figure 1). Also of importance to fishermen, the signal is not audible to fish and therefore does not negatively affect catch yields.

The concept for this product was developed by Jon Lien Ph.D., through research at the Whale Research Centre at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. Dr. Lien, a prominent animal behavior researcher and whale expert, began developing this concept over 15 years ago in an effort to assist Newfoundland fishermen in protecting their fishing gear from damage caused by entangled whales. Ten years later, the concept became a reality and underwent testing in Newfoundland, Canada; Queensland, Australia, Natal, South Africa, and New Hampshire, USA, where it was consistently demonstrated to be an effective deterrent to by-catch without negatively affecting the catch yields.

Dr. Lien’s device has not been widely disseminated because the actual manufacturing cost of $250 per unit (or $1,250 per net) was greater than the opportunity cost to fishermen of not adopting the technology (i.e., net damage) or of stopping fishing. During the tests, the original prototype design, in addition to being too expensive, was found to be extremely awkward and cumbersome for the fishermen to use. This was a major barrier to commercial development.

After reading about the frustration Dr. Lien was having in making his concept manufacturable, our five person team of graduate students in the Master of Management in Manufacturing program at Northwestern University initiated a series of discussions with him. We subsequently formed Independence Marine to commercialize this technology concept.

Design Concept

In an effort to make the commercial product a success, Independence Marine worked directly with lead users from Dr. Lien’s experimental tests to get feedback on the existing product. These lead users are generally the most successful fishermen in a given port or region and have the economic wherewithal to experiment with new technologies to improve their results. The market research consisted of focus groups conducted by two of the company founders and consisted of the lead users from Dr. Lien’s test in Portsmouth, NH. From the research it was determined that the key product attributes were cost, ease of use, safety and compatibility with existing gear. In addition, key internal design parameters were found to be durability, salt water resistance, depth pressure resistance, signal strength and range, power source life and energy consumption.

By working with fishermen on the design, Independence Marine has taken efforts to foster fisherman to ‘buy-in” to our solution to their problem. With this approach, we will not repeat the experience of the “Turtle Excluder Device” that was mandated a few years ago by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for use in the shrimp trawling fisheries along the Gulf Coast of the U. S. The shrimpers were not included in the development process of the product and felt that the product was useless, unusable and a “golden egg” for the manufacturer. Independence Marine continues to include lead-users in the development of our products and in the study of the buying and usage behaviors of the vessel owners and fishermen.

Product Attributes and Benefits

Whale Awayä has a distinctive, brightly colored durable plastic exterior. One end has the shape of a whale’s head molded in plastic. The device will be noticeable to fishermen who will see the equipment being used by the lead users of each port. The attention that it attracts will encourage imitation, which is a common method of product diffusion in the fishing industry, as well as trial and acceptance of Whale Awayä. In addition, the colors will be changed from year to year to make it easier for fishermen and regulators to recognize that the fisherman has the most current devices with the latest proven technology (note, however, that user registration will be the primary form of monitoring usage available to regulators).

Whale Away’sä compact, durable, light weight design allows easy, safe use with mechanized fishing equipment (e.g. hydraulic winches and mechanical net spreaders). In some applications, nets are deployed at rates of up to fifteen miles per hour and bang over several metal spreading bars. In this environment, the device must be able to be pulled easily through the system along with the nets. A major problem with the original device was that its weight and bulk required that it be clipped on to nets by a crew member after they had been through the mechanized equipment and were over the side of the boat, resulting in much slower deployment speeds, additional crew members and increased risk of personal injury.

Most importantly, our design is very adaptable to the equipment used in our primary market, the domestic gill net fishing industry. Which currently represents 46% of the deployed fishing gear and almost 80% of cetacean by-catch in the U.S. (Please see Figure 2 for a description of gill net fishing technology). The power source life is both Whale Away’sä greatest constraint and its greatest marketing opportunity. Whale Awayä is designed as a disposable, single-season device necessitating annual repurchase. Like many replacement markets (e.g. razor blades), sales will be predictable and the customer base can be developed. In addition to the benefits of planned obsolescence, annual replacement will allow for easy integration of product improvements. Annual color and shape changes will also help government observers to ensure that the latest and best technology is being used. Lastly, the limited life of the current power source is the factor that allows the product to meet the requirements of the fishermen in terms of size and cost.

The color changes will be released in June of each year to coincide with the migratory patterns of cetaceans off the coast of the United States. Whale Awayä is designed to function for up to 3 months in the water. Fishermen will attach the devices to their nets only during those times that the cetaceans might reasonably be anticipated in their waters, which is about two months per year. To conserve energy, the design includes a water activated switch to shut the device off when it is out of the water. When dry, the product has a shelf life of almost one year.

Product Name

The product works by warning or alerting cetaceans that there is “something unusual” (a net) in the water. The animal gets curious, and, rather than colliding blindly with the net, learns where it is in the water, and thus avoids entanglement. From the fisherman’s perspective, the product keeps cetaceans away from his or her net; thereby protecting the net from damage and keeping the fisherman out of trouble with regulators. Since the best known cetacean is the whale, our product was named Whale Awayä.

Independence Marine
Table of Contents Appendices
0. Executive Summary
1. Product Description
2. Market Need
3. Marketing
4. Future Opportunities
5. Operations
6. Management
7. Financial Overview
Market Analysis
Advertising & Promotion
Buyer Behavior
Market Size & Profits
©1993 Independence Marine

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