Shellfish sector tests innovative fishing gear to address concerns about mounting marine mammal deaths

Shellfish sector tests innovative fishing gear to address concerns about mounting marine mammal deaths

Can ropeless fishing gear save the whales?

The Coldwater Lobster Association in Nova Scotia recently partnered with two ocean technology companies on a pilot study to test the effectiveness of ropeless fishing gear technology.

A high number of deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters in 2018 spurred the action. North American right whales getting tangled in ropes attached to lobster traps is thought to be one of the reasons why some of the deaths occurred in 2018. This resulted in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans taking measures to protect the species, including mandating temporary closures of some Lobster Fishing Areas when right whale sightings were confirmed. Lobster fishers disagree that their fishing practices are killing right whales.

“Instead of complaining about it, we thought we should do something,” says Heather Mulock, executive director of the association, which represents 970 lobster licence holders in southwestern Nova Scotia. “Let’s test it out.”

So far, test results have been disappointing. The two companies the association partnered with in the pilot study were U.S.-based Desert Star Systems and Nova Scotia-based Ashored Innovations. Their ropeless gear technology was used on three vessels for 23 sea trials each. Mulock says separate reports on the trials have been done. The report on the Desert Star technology was finished as this magazine went to press, but the report on Ashored Innovations was not. Mulock says the Desert Star report showed the cost is prohibitive for fishers and technical challenges were also encountered in the water with its ropeless gear technology.

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