BAR PORT – To reduce the chances of whales getting entangled with fishing gear, researchers and developers are testing technology that would eliminate the need for vertical lines that connect lobster traps on the seabed and buoys floating on the surface.
Lobster vessels face more stringent restrictions to aid in the recovery of endangered North Atlantic right whales, and so-called “cordless” fishing is seen as one of the potential ways to ease this burden.
Traditionally, lobster boats have a buoy on the surface to mark their chain of pots on the ocean floor, and they are connected by a vertical line. Fishing without a rope would give up the lingering vertical line that is in the water.
“We’re in a place where we’re testing and still doing research to see how much of a part of the solution that can be,” said Zack Klyver, Scientific Director of Blue Planet Strategies. With his company, Klyver is working with gillnet fishermen and is looking for lobster boats in Maine who might be interested in testing the technology. “We are actively looking for lobster fishermen who want to be pioneers, who want to see if that can be part of the solution.
There are currently two main types of cordless fishing. One is a trap-shaped cage that has a rope stored inside. A lobster boat can trigger the release of the buoy, bringing the rope back to the surface. The second type includes a lifting bag in the trap. It explodes like a balloon on demand, dragging the trap with it.
EdgeTech, a Massachusetts company, has been manufacturing acoustic triggering devices for other industries for years and has applied this technology to trap fishing. The company has developed a cage that acts as an additional trap on a line. A lobster boat can call the cage with an app and grab the released buoy. From there, it’s essentially the same fishing process that’s currently in place, said Rob Morris, product line sales engineer at EdgeTech.
With the app, fishermen could also find their traps, as well as share location information with other fishermen and regulators, making the app and data collection easier, he said.
The tests come as the right whale population has fallen to less than 400. Federal officials say entanglements are one of the leading killers of right whales, a critically endangered whale that migrates along the coast. East cost. More than 80 percent of right whales have scars that indicate they have been entangled in fishing lines and nearly 60 percent of them have become entangled more than once. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that in recent years most of the documented entanglements of large whale fishing gear that cause severe injury and mortality have come from traps / pots.
The agency’s potential new trap rules could include closures for fishermen who use vertical lines, but lobster vessels could continue to fish if they use rope-less systems.
Most testing is currently underway in Massachusetts and there has been resistance to the idea in Maine. Lobster boats here said they were not to blame for the whale population decline and were skeptical of the technology, with concerns over cost and functionality.
Klyver said there might be some benefits to using these types of systems.
“It could potentially make the lobster fishery more efficient,” he said. “Now when the lobster costs $ 7 a pound and you try to pull as many traps as you can to get as much lobster as you can, that means a lot. “
While pulling a trap, captains can also call other traps so they are ready and waiting when they get there. He also said that by eliminating vertical lines there could also be less tangled lines.
Lobster boats would be able to find any lost traps with the tracking apps included with the cordless systems. A Massachusetts fisherman was able to use acoustic signal technology and found his trap more than a mile away.
“When you add technology there could be a lot of additional benefits that could really help this fishery and overcome this nasty conundrum that we find ourselves in with very few good options when thinking about how to save right whales and fisherman. “said Klyver.
Toby Stephenson, the captain of the RV Osprey at College of the Atlantic saw the cordless technology deployed on the school boat for research purposes and said it was reliable.
“Over the past 10 to 15 years, technology has improved dramatically,” he said. “The technology is as strong as the technology is.”
The acoustic technology used to call the traps has been used in scientific research for decades and has been shown to be able to be used for fishing as well, said Sean Brilliant, a wildlife biologist at the Canadian Wildlife Federation and member of the Ropeless association. Consortium.
It remains to be seen whether it can be used in every port, he said, and the technology is still not available on a scale large enough for entire fisheries to convert.
The absence of buoys marking the location of the traps could make it difficult for other fishermen to set up their gear, unless they all embark on the applications, which are still in their infancy.
“Typically, this equipment is not ready for prime time,” Brilliant said.
Stephenson expected there to be resistance among the lobster boats and he was worried about the user interface as well.
“Right now they’re catching a lot of lobsters and what they’ve got is working really well for them,” he said. “Why would they want to change it? “
Brilliant noted that this technology was not only being considered for right whales, but also for other whales. It is also a global problem, not just something specific to the northeast.
While there’s still a climb, not too long ago cordless wasn’t even part of the conversation, Brilliant said. For him, it was an indication of progress.
“Until a few years ago, it was science fiction,” he said. “We have come a long way already.