Main menu


NOAA plans to expand testing of ropeless fishing technology

In the fall of 2020, two types of ropeless fishing gear were tested near Egg Rock Lighthouse in Frenchman Bay. Photo courtesy of Blue Planet Strategy

In the latest effort to protect endangered right whales, federal regulators have announced plans to increase the use of on-demand or ropeless fishing gear. This includes expanding testing of new technologies.

To address vessel collisions and entanglement in fishing gear, the two leading causes of human-induced whale deaths, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently introduced rules to reduce vessel speed and extensive ropelessness. Announcing a “Ropeless Roadmap” to prepare for adoption. fishing.

A vertical line connecting a series of traps on the seafloor and buoys on the surface can get caught in the fins of whales and in the mouths of swimming whales, sometimes resulting in death. There are fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales, according to NOAA.

On-demand fishing gear eliminates the need for vertical lines in the water until lobster traps, pots, or gillnets are pulled. Various technologies are currently under development. Some have a flotation device triggered by an acoustic signal to bring the gear or end of the rope back to the surface when the fishing vessel returns to retrieve it. Some use a timer to release the rope and buoy to the surface to reduce the time the rope is in the water column. Also available in some low-tech options, traps and other gear can be easily removed with grappling hooks. The position of the gear can be communicated to the boat above by an acoustic signal.

Lobster fishermen in Maine have always relied on colorful floating buoys to mark the location of their gear below, but have long warned about fishing without ropes. Many people oppose attempts to make this technology widely available, not only because it is expensive, but also because of the distrust of the technology. A 50-trap troll could cost him well over $100,000 if the signal doesn’t work and he can’t get a series of traps called trolls. Trawlers could be set on top of each other if the signal could not communicate well with other ships, and more gear could be lost if the traps got tangled or the tow rope broke under tension. I have.

Doug McLennan, a longtime fisherman from South Thomaston, said: “They say, ‘Well, it’ll all be on your phone,’ but many places don’t have cell phone coverage and one People in departments don’t use mobile phones much, they’re good with computers, and they try to do something as simple as set up a trap and go pull it, and then do it on the computer screen, not disturbing other people. It just doesn’t work that you have to try not to.”

Others, however, are asking to wait for the technology twists to unravel, for higher production volumes and lower costs. They see ropeless phishing as a potential solution to many problems. This can mean buying less rope and spending less time configuring. Regulations enacted this year to protect right whales require complex weak link configurations and markings. A whale was found entangled. It also saves you the time and money of buying and painting new buoys every time you hit a passing boat or barge and get lost.

However, there are many who feel there is reason to be skeptical.

Andrea Tomlinson, founder of the New England Young Fishermen’s Alliance, said many of the participants in the group’s deckhand-to-captain training program expressed concerns about laboratory techniques, and their main concern was that other From the fixed gear mentioned above it is a gear conflict as well. Not only from fishermen, but also from tugs and trawlers who need to know where their traps and gillnets are set without benefiting from buoys.

fishermen feel neglected

And while there is a public comment period on the ropeless roadmap, fishermen don’t feel like their voices are being heard, especially after the recent line marking and weaker rope regulations went into effect this year, she said. said.

“A lot of fishermen commented,” she said. “Organized by the Maine Lobster Association, the Maine Coastal Fisheries Association has been absolutely essential in getting fishermen to comment and testify at these hearings. I did.”

The Ropeless Roadmap points to a precedent for federal funding to help cover the costs of regulation to protect marine species, suggesting that costs will come down as innovation, demand, and production increase. increase.

Zach Klyver, co-founder of Augusta and Bar Harbor-based Blue Planet Strategies, agrees. Blue Planet, a marine conservation research and science company, is working with gear manufacturers, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and local fishermen to test different types of on-demand fishing gear for lobster and gillnet fishermen. Currently, the device can cost as much as $7,000, he said, but prices will drop significantly once it is commercially produced. He of Washington already has a very simple $300 buoy release device developed by the Sea Mammal Education Learning Technology Society.

Blue Planet is working with fishermen to test another ropeless strap that uses compressed air to fill an inflatable airbag that lifts gear to the surface. While some people, particularly Massachusetts fishermen, have been very open about their involvement in testing, Klyver said the fishermen he works with in Maine are being ostracized by others in the industry. I keep a low profile to avoid

Blue Planet has an exemption permit that allows testing units on one end of the trawler, with compliant endlines and buoys on the other end. Klyver said he had no issues with gear conflicts on unmarked ends. They plan to test the Rope Rest Roll in cruise ship waterways in and out of Portland and Bar Harbor, where fishing gear is scarce.

“We are very excited about this technology and have had a lot of success with it,” he said. “There are still things we need to figure out to improve it, so it is very important that more fishermen work with us to see the potential.”

Four steps to adoption

The ropeless roadmap shows the four steps that must be accomplished before this technology is widely adopted. The first is continuous technical development and testing. The second is the development of methods for resolving gear conflicts. Three projects testing location software are underway or planned this summer in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Additionally, the Maine Department of Marine Resources is researching an underwater acoustic signal geolocation system for ship-to-gear communications. The third step is to expand our ropeless fishing research with fishermen to test both on-demand technology and methods developed to resolve gear conflicts.

The fourth step is to address the regulatory changes necessary to enable on-demand phishing. Several layers of current regulations require fixed bottom gear surface markings. The plan does not propose any regulations that would require the adoption of this technology, but it does provide guidance on how future regulations may change to mandate ropeless phishing in certain areas. provide insight.

The Ropeless Roadmap suggests that on-demand fishing may be the solution with the highest entanglement risk, with 20% of fixed gear currently located in federal waters, but 70% of the risk to right whales. You point out that it stands for % . Further narrowing it down, we calculated the risk in units called “line-months”, calculated one vertical line in the water for a month, and determined that eliminating 25,000 line-months would reduce the entanglement risk by 50%. did. Total number of months of line usage in the target area. A 90% reduction in risk requires 320,000 rows per month, or a 7.8% reduction.

It’s unclear how those calculations translate into regulation, but NOAA said at a meeting Thursday that the Atlantic Large Whale Catch Reduction Team, the body responsible for developing new regulations to reduce risks to whales presents a ropeless roadmap to

NOAA will accept public comments on the roadmap through the end of 2022.

To reset your password, please use the form below. After you email your account, you will receive an email with a reset code.