Robert Terry

Palo Alto, CA / Newport, OR

Founder & CTO of Smart Catch LLC, a startup that‘s developing cost-effective, innovative trawl-net fishing gear that will help fishermen increase efficiency and reduce by-catch

Robert Terry is the founder and CTO of Smart Catch LLC, a startup company dedicated to promoting sustainable commercial fishing by developing innovative, cost-effective products designed to help fishermen increase their profitability while dramatically minimizing their negative ecological footprint. Rob has spent the past 25 years designing and building sophisticated hardware and software technology products, video imaging and image recognition systems, and high capacity information networks.


Give us some context for your business: what is by-catch and why is it such a problem?

By-catch refers the biological waste resulting from any non-target fish species caught in a commercial trawl net. Fishing nets have not fundamentally changed since they were invented 5,000 years ago, so when commercial fishing boats cast their nets into the water, the contents of their nets largely remain a mystery until the catch is brought up onto the deck. Even with our best trawl nets today, it is estimated that one out of four fish caught is the wrong (non-target) species of fish. The problem is that after thousands of years of fishing primarily using nets, the industry’s accumulation of "wrong" fish gone to waste is adding up and threatening to collapse our planet’s wild fish resources.

How does Smart Catch propose to solve this problem?

Most by-catch can be attributed primarily to the fact that existing commercial trawl-net fishing gear fails to allow fishermen to distinguish between, and be selective about, their catch prior to harvest. Smart Catch is developing "smart technologies" that facilitate real-time video catch-monitoring and data acquisition. Our devices will give fishermen "eyes" inside of their nets, so that they can slow their boat down and/or change course if their nets contain an abundance of non-target fish. Smart Catch is also developing a trawl-net system that features remotely controllable diverters. These dynamic diverters are designed to work in conjunction with our monitoring devices, so that from the wheelhouse a Captain will be able not only to view the contents of his net before harvesting but to selectively open or close diverters in order to control the contents of his net while at catch depth. Smart Catch technologies will enable fishermen to better comply with catch share regulations and potentially achieve sustainability certification from groups like the Marine Stewardship Council, allowing them not only to be friendlier to the environment, but also to demand a premium for their fish because it was sustainably caught.

How did you arrive at the intersection of fishing and technology?

My background is in product development, engineering, and technical team leadership. I have extensive experience in creating commercial product innovations. Both of my nieces are married to professional fishermen. I have spent a long time developing a deep understanding of fishing practices, the industry, the problems, and the many potential solutions. I believe that by leveraging state-of-the-art technologies and drawing upon the knowledge amassed by generations of fishermen, effective solutions can be found.

What are your goals for the next few years?

Fishermen are ultimately conservationists; what they really need are durable and easy-to-use products that can help them fish more sustainability. Smart Catch will continue to develop game-changing technologies designed to help fishermen accomplish this goal. Our mission is to leverage big changes in the industry by providing sustainably oriented productivity solutions to as many fishermen as possible and backing them with awesome product support to keep them fully functional. Based on what we learn today, we will continue to improve and develop new technologies for a sustainable future. Smart Catch is positioning itself to be a leader in a new era of commercial fishing—the era of "precision fishing".

What possibilities do you see for the future of commercial fishing?

Commercial fishing technology is on the brink of a revolution. In the near future, fishermen will deploy sophisticated fishing equipment that will give them the ability to harvest target species with superior precision. New technologies will result in more efficient fishing, as entire fleets of fishing boats begin to incorporate and modernized their gear with integrated digital sensors and controls.

What do you hope to gain as a Future of Fish cohort member?

We have the chance to turn what is rapidly becoming a global ecological disaster into a positive business opportunity. We are hoping to gain access to potential investors, funding sources, and networks of like-minded individuals and organizations who want to partner with us to help drive positive change in the commercial fishing industry.