Maine lobstermen start 2022 with a unique opportunity to fundamentally solve the whale entanglement problem. Throughout history, technology has been used to improve our lives and solve complex problems. The invention brought us cell phones, computers, satellites, and soon self-driving cars and a base on the moon.
The technology could end whale deaths in lobster fisheries, make fisheries more efficient and safer, and reduce gear conflict and equipment loss. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has given lobster fisheries a 10-year time frame to significantly reduce the risk to endangered right whales. Instead of spending millions trying to litigation to get out of this, fishermen can devise their own way out of this.
For example, the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington is working through its Skipper software to experiment with underwater “reflectors” on traps – allowing them to be quickly located on a depth probe. In unison, they are developing a list of “best practices for fishing gear,” with the hope that these innovations will allow fishing without fishing lines in Maine’s new closing area.
In 2020, we tested Edgetech and SMELTS “cordless” gear systems in the waters of Frenchman Bay and Desert Rock Mountain. Ropeless fishing is a new technology that removes the buoys and finish lines that entangle whales and replaces them with a sonic release that, when triggered, brings a stock line and a buoy or fill an airbag. During nine days of testing, we performed over 60 deployments and had nearly 100 percent success with recall.
This year we established a ropeless testing program with eight lobster and gillnet fishermen in Maine, in partnership with the Northeast Fishing Science Center and equipment manufacturers. These pioneering ropeless anglers test from Eastport to Kennebunkport, at tides 28 feet high and 35 miles offshore, and prove that these systems work in Maine.
Teledyne, the high-tech giant that recently bought FLIR and Ray Marine for $8 billion, is one of more than a dozen groups globally that designs and engineers advanced cordless and tracking systems. These kits produce hull-mounted acoustic transducers, smart buoys, and subsea gear tags, seamlessly integrating all of this into fisherman blueprinters.
Society is willing to pay for this diversion because society wants hunters and whales to coexist. The greatest danger to the whales was 10 miles and more offshore, so we should focus on the federal license holders who make up 25 percent of Maine’s fleet. Offshore anglers use chains of traps with two end lines and floats. We can remove one vertical line and replace it with a cordless system and instantly get a 50 percent reduction in tangle risk.
In Canada, Acadian Snow Crab fishermen are about to go completely cordless. This winter, anglers in Massachusetts will be fishing ropeless in the enclosed right whale area. The Maine legislature can provide funding for innovation and testing. If we roll up our sleeves and work together, we can solve this dilemma and boost Maine’s lobster fisheries for generations to come.