Pisces: Built by fishermen for fishermen

Using technology to transform the fishing industry
Fishermen working on a boat emptying cages
Illustration of a fishing boat

Sustainability – it’s one of the biggest challenges we face, and one which the fishing industry can drastically improve on. Bycatch and discards are a huge issue, and roughly one in five fish that are caught are discarded. This is equal to 27 million tonnes of discarded fish globally per year, which contributes to a staggering global loss of £1 billion across the industry. From a human perspective, no fisherman wants to catch a fish that they can’t land, and no one wants to throw dead fish back into the sea. It causes damage to the wallets of fishermen, as well as the world’s fish populations and waters as a whole.

“You can’t put a sign up on your net saying ‘No bass’, you catch what you catch.”

Fisherman, Brixham

A bright idea

Dan Watson, Founder and CEO of Safety Net Technologies (SNTech), created the concept of Pisces at university. He recognised that fish respond physiologically to light. Since then, Dan and his team have been building sophisticated LED systems that can change the behaviour of fish.

Pisces is a light-emitting device that attaches to fishing nets. Depending on how it’s programmed, it can use light to attract or repel certain fish species, improving fishermen’s chances of catching the right species, age and size of fish. This helps protect natural resources, reduce bycatch, and ensure that fish stocks are available for future generations.

The SNTech team recognised that something was missing from the development of Pisces. They needed to hear from fisher people, as their voice and opinion would be vital to the success of the product. With this in mind, they brought Snook on board to discover how fishing crews will buy, use, and maintain the Pisces product and provide direction on a service model.

Living like your user

We started our research journey at 5am at Brixham Fish Market. In order to understand and know how to meet differing needs, we developed relationships with various stakeholders through casual conversation and carried out research in two of the UK’s largest ports – Brixham and Newlyn. During research we spoke to:

Close up of fisherman's hands working with a lobster cage
  • 16 Fishermen and vessel owners
  • 3 NGOs
  • 5 Gear makers
  • 2 Suppliers
  • 4 Representatives of government bodies, including the Marine Management Organisation (MMO)

Creating, testing and learning

To truly understand how the product and service would work, over a one week period we built digital and physical prototypes. We also carried out a live service walkthrough, so that we knew what had to be done in terms of support before the product rolled out.

Key Insights

  • Integrating Pisces with existing gear would be key to uptake. Our original idea to install monitors was found to be unsuitable as fishermen already had too many. Providing downloadable software to install on the current monitors was a much more viable solution.
  • Although competitive, the fishing community is close-knit and word of mouth spreads quickly; this would help launch Pisces. With the efficient and fast pace of the industry, it was made clear that it was necessary for the service to be as straightforward and smooth running as possible.
  • Fishermen are innovative. It was fascinating to discover that fishermen are very adept at solving problems, whether putting glow sticks into cuttlefish pots, or attaching monitors on deck for the crew to see sonar and radar systems.
  • There is a strong sense of independence within the community, and there is little trust in external bodies that tell them how to do their job. However, there is also a willingness to try new practices to help create a better industry.

Building a design-led community

Throughout this project we worked as one with SNTech, cementing the process of user-research, iteration, and validation into every stage of continued product development. The organisation has now put co-design at the heart of its culture.

User research also enabled us to prioritise product iterations and service touchpoint development. We created a roadmap for product launch, breaking down the steps to enter into global markets.

We also built networks, relationships, and friendships that are invaluable to both SNTech and ourselves. An additional bonus of these relationships is that it can help build the support network needed to launch a new product into the fishing industry. We have helped to create ‘Pisces pioneers’ who are spreading the word, and who will be some of the first to adopt any new development or product, giving us an early insight into its use.

This was Innovate UK’s first pilot of applying design to the strategic framing of how products and services are developed in the UK.


Fishing boat in the sea