A collaboration between our fishing gear team, offshore lobster fishermen, and engineers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Insitution, received one of 14 national grants awarded under NOAA's Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program (BREP).
Project Title: Testing a ropeless fishing prototype for eliminating large whale entanglements in pot fishing gear
Project Summary: The market for crustaceans caught in US pot fisheries is commercially valuable and an economic mainstay of New England. However, the ropes used in these fisheries, and in east coast slime eel fisheries, are the primary source of lethal and sub-lethal entanglements of protected and endangered species, including baleen whales and leatherback sea turtles. The situation is critical for the endangered North Atlantic right whale (NARW) (Eubalaena glacialis), a species restricted to the coastal northwest Atlantic, which numbers only 450 individuals and has been in decline since 2010. During this period, the incidence and severity of right whale entanglements have been increasing. Just as worrisome, the rate at which calves are being born has fallen to historic lows. Despite several regulations imposed upon the fishing industry over a decade, none show any evidence of reducing whale mortality. In short, to avert the likely extinction of this species in the next 20 years, we urgently need to eliminate the threat to whales from entanglements in fishing ropes. The goal of our project is to evaluate the potential of a ropeless fishing system for use in pot fisheries targeting crustaceans and benthic fishes. We propose testing our prototype that was developed in 2015 at sea with fishermen. The system incorporates an innovative and progressive design, developed in consultation with Massachusetts offshore lobster fishermen, with potential to be a cost-effective fishing method that avoids entanglements of endangered and protected baleen whales and leatherback sea turtles.