Ropeless fishing traps to save whales show promise in spring fishery

Ten fishermen out of Shippigan, N.B., were testing ropeless trap technology during the spring crab fishery that is designed to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Previous systems proved to be unreliable

A right whale entangled in gear in the Bay of Fundy. A recent study found entanglement to be the lead cause of death for right whales. (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Ten fishermen out of Shippagan, N.B., were testing ropeless trap technology during the spring crab fishery that is designed to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

A recent report from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts found that fishing gear entanglements were the leading cause of right whale deaths from 2010 to 2015. There are only about 360 right whales remaining in the world.

The report recommended ropeless gear as a solution. Standard gear connects traps on the bottom to a buoy on the surface. With ropeless gear, the ropes lie on the bottom until they are released by an acoustic signal from the fisherman, then float to the surface so the traps can be hauled.

Robert Hache, director general of the Acadian Crabbers Association, said previous experiments with ropeless gear did not go well.

"The main issue was the reliability and user-friendly aspect of the acoustic release mechanism," said Hache.

This most recent technology is working better, he said, but there are still issues. In particular, the system relies on cellular networks for locating the underwater traps, and the signals are not that strong out on the fishing grounds.

Eventually, a system would also need to be set up so the Department of Fisheries and Oceans can keep track of all the traps in the water.

"Fishermen that have been involved with the testing and have used these devices have found it sufficiently interesting to do further experimentation," said Hache.

Fishermen invested

Interest in the devices is growing, Hache said.

Five of the 10 fishermen this year invested their own money to buy the devices.

"That was a very good sign for us, because when you get these people interested in an equipment, that are willing to invest, then it means they are looking at this issue seriously," said Hache.

New methods need to be found. Currently, conservation means just shutting down the fishery when whales are spotted.

Ropeless traps can stay in the water, because they pose no danger to the whales.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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