Ropeless gear aimed at preventing right whale deaths may soon be commercially viable
A snow crab fisherman is currently testing ropeless gear that could help prevent a major cause of death among North Atlantic right whales and hopes the technology can be used commercially by 2024.
Martin Noël of Shippigan, NB, has used the technology, which prevents the animal from becoming entangled, in recent fishing seasons. He and 21 other anglers have signed up to deploy the gear this summer.
Noël said the technology is “very different” from the simple pots attached to a buoy by a rope that he is used to.
The standard equipment connects the traps on the bottom to a buoy on the surface. With ropeless gear, the ropes lie on the bottom until released by an acoustic signal from the fisherman, then float to the surface so the traps can be brought up.
“The fisherman is using their cell phone or a smartphone tablet and there’s an acoustic pinger bridge unit…sending an acoustic signal down in the water to the mechanism,” he said.
“Once that’s triggered, the cage that holds the rope, the lid of that rope is released. Buoys are attached to that lid and it comes up to the surface of the water, and then the fisherman sees it and can pick it up.”
Noel said that when fishermen are not at sea, there are no gears or ropes in the water, which virtually eliminates the risk of whales becoming entangled.
The right whale is one of the most endangered whale species on the planet, with research suggesting there are currently fewer than 400. Entanglement in ropes and collisions with ships are one of the causes of death the most common for the species.
The technology is five times more expensive than ordinary equipment. But Noël said funding from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans helped offset the costs.
The department has invested $4.5 million in ropeless gear testing through the Atlantic Fisheries Fund since 2018, and a $20 million fund created last year.
“It has to be able to work and in harsh conditions, you know, so these are very expensive instruments. But again, we’re at the beginning of these mechanisms,” Noël said.
“A lot of fishermen said ‘without a rope, it’s hopeless’, because fishing with a mobile phone and without buoys seemed impossible to us at the time. But because of the situation of the right whale, we had to find solutions and NGOs have been saying “the solution exists. Just try it because the way you fish is hurting the whales.”
Documentary sheds light on plight of species
The technology was featured in The last of the right whalesa new Canadian documentary about the migration of whales and the struggle to keep them alive.
Wildlife pathologist and marine mammal specialist Laura Bourque spoke at a screening of the film in Charlottetown this week.
“When you’re talking about a large, charismatic species that’s on the brink of extinction, I think it’s important that people try to understand what that means in the grand scheme of things,” she said. .
“I would like everyone who sees this movie and is moved by it to try to think about what they can do in their day-to-day lives to remedy this situation and try to prevent the extinction of this species.”
Bourque said she hopes the technology behind the ropeless gear could be financially and logistically feasible so more anglers can adopt it.
“I don’t want anyone to blame the fishermen. They are an important part of our culture, our country,” she said.
“But I think [we should be] support our anglers in other ways, such as encouraging our government to help them switch to more sustainable fishing options. »