CELS News Article
Spotlight on Alumni:
CELS Alum Jonathan Knight contributing to fisheries research project
By: Rudi Hempe, CELS News Editor and Reporter
Jonathan Knight beams an ever-present smile as he peers out of his cluttered office
down the 150-foot long loft where huge fish nets are strung. He is completely believable
when he says “I really do love this job.”
Knight is a successful URI graduate, who although he has a degree in Mechanical
Engineering, is literally and figuratively intertwined with the Rhode Island fishing industry
and, most recently, with a unique CELS research project.
Knight is founder of Superior Trawl, a small firm that builds big commercial fishing nets,
many of a unique design.
One is so unique—a hot seller because it catches squid and nothing else—that a
modified version of it is being used by URI fisheries experts in a project to develop a
method whereby fishermen can go after the plentiful haddock without endangering the
stocks of the not-so-plentiful cod that tend to swim with haddock.
More trials are planned for that project which in all probability would not have been a
reality had it not been for Knight’s net-building expertise.
Knight, a native of Narragansett, has had fishing in his blood almost his entire life.
Fishing was a way of life for Jonathan whose family was tied to the sea. He decided to
take the special Fisheries Program at URI and after two years received his associate’s
degree. He went back to sea for two years but when wedding bells started to ring for
him, he decided that being at sea for extended periods was not conducive to the married
life. He then took a job on shore first with Jamestown Trawl and later with Trawl Works in
Narragansett learning the craft of building commercial nets for several years. During that
time he decided to return to school again—this time to get a Mechanical Engineering
degree in 1994
David Beutel a URI research associate in fisheries, was the owner of Jamestown Trawl
when young Jonathan came to work for him. “He was a great worker and very bright,”
says Beutel. “My experience in the (fishing) gear business is that people are innovative,
thorough and certainly honest,” he added.
Seven years ago, Knight launched his own gear business at Davisville next to Seafreeze
Ltd.’s, huge fish freezing operation, and started building and repairing nets for the
Seafreeze boat. Seafreeze then put on an addition and in the process Superior Trawl
ended up with a spacious loft where the big nets can be spread out for repairs or
His firm employs four and now has grown to the point that there is no slow season.
While outfitting the commercial fleet, mostly in Galilee, is Knight’s main business, the
URI project headed up by research associates Beutel and Laura G. Skrobe offered a
The problem was how to catch haddock without also snagging large numbers of cod (for
which the fishing quota is quite limited) and the solution lay in one of Knight’s squid net
designs. The squid net works so well, says Knight, that all squid fishermen want one.
Basically the net is made up with different size meshes.
“We knew he had all the experience to build the net,’ says Beutel.
The squid net was modified with small mesh (a few inches wide) at the top and wide
open at the bottom. But the first step was to find out if the design would drag properly
around the sea bottom and the best way to do that is to follow the example of aircraft
designers—build a model first.
So Knight set out to build a net 1/8th scale, down to the last detail. That model net,
which now sits in a corner of his office, was then taken to a flume tank at the Marine
Institute in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“They were very helpful with the design,” says Knight who says he was on the phone
frequently with the experts up there prior to the tank trials. Two days of tests in the flume
tank (the watery equivalent of a wind tunnel) showed the design would work.
Trials with the haddock net will continue through next spring and Knight is hoping he
could go out on one of the five-day trials but he doubts it - he's too busy.
Orders come in regularly for new nets or repairs to old ones. His firm offers a wide
variety of net materials and one of his trademarks, something he learned from his
mentor, Paul Shuman, another URI fisheries program grad, is using something called a
“triple tuck” instead of knots in making certain sized nets.
The “triple tuck” is actually a weave of two intersecting ropes and to the uninitiated it is
impossible to look at it without wondering “How did they do that?” The big advantage of
the “triple tuck” is that unlike a knot, it won’t slip.
With his growing business, Knight says it may be time for him to go back to school for
business courses. Now that he has a URI fisheries associate’s degree and a URI
engineering degree both under his belt, the URI College of Business Administration
might well expect a knock on the door.