Could ropeless fishing gear allow fishing to continue without entangling marine wildlife?

As the mortality crisis for the North Atlantic Right Whale continues, researchers from the Marine Team at the Canadian Wildlife Federation are collaborating with fish harvesters to test new technologies that may allow fishing to continue while preventing entanglements in fishing gear.

Ropeless fishing gear is gear without any vertical lines left in the water column — from the water’s surface to the sediment — when the harvester is not present.

Ropeless systems have been tested successfully on a small scale — some are even widely used in other applications, such as oceanographic research. However, few trials have been conducted in Canadian commercial fisheries.

Our goal is to put ropeless fishing gear into the hands of fish harvesters so they can test it on the water, under the harsh marine conditions they encounter on a daily basis.

Illustration of traditional fishing gear in the water. @ NOAA

Types of Traps

CWF and our collaborators are testing two main types of systems:

1. Contained Endline Trap

In the first type, lines and buoys are held in a containment system (such as a mesh bag or trap) at the bottom of the ocean until they are released via an acoustic trigger when the harvester comes to retrieve the catch.

2. Inflatable Sac Trap

The second type includes a deflated bag attached to the trap that inflates when triggered, raising the trap to the surface.

Both of these systems, if successful, could significantly reduce the risk to marine mammals by removing the vertical lines that entangle them from the water column.

Testing, Testing

Some aspects of ropeless gear that need to be tested include:

  • Success rate of retrieval
  • Time needed to operate
  • How to locate the gear when there is nothing marking it on the ocean surface

Is Ropeless Gear a Feasible Alternative?

Example of a ropeless fishing gear set up. @ Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life.

The goal of these trials is to discover whether ropeless gear could be a feasible alternative to traditional fishing gear in areas with a North Atlantic Right Whale presence.

Areas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with a North Atlantic Right Whale presence are susceptible to being closed to fisheries. It is our hope that ropeless gear would allow fish harvesters to continue working in these closed areas, rather than displacing fisheries.

Working with fish harvesters is our best chance to determine the potential these systems have to work for commercial fisheries in Atlantic Canada.

Learn more about the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s work with Marine Animal Rescue and Coasts & Oceans.