Scientists trying to convince New England lobstermen to invest in “ropeless fishing” to cut the risk current fishing methods pose to northern right whales, The Boston Globe reported.
Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution say ropeless fishing will allow lobstermen to continue in their livelihood, but without long ropes running from buoys on the ocean’s surface to lobster traps on the ocean floor. Whales are caught in these lines, which fishermen use to haul up their catch, and tangle themselves until they drown.
Woods Hole scientists met with lobstermen to pitch their idea but failed to make much headway. Lobstermen say the technology involved and the many problems and glitches still left to work out make the idea too costly for thousands of lobstermen to adopt and learn to use.
“It’s not going to work,” Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association President Arthur Sawyer told The Boston Globe. “It’s complete foolishness — very far-fetched.”
Two methods of ropeless fishing were introduced and both involve bags that can be inflated remotely under the water. In the first, one such bag is attached to a spool of line that, once inflated, will unroll the spool and rise to the surface, allowing the fisherman to pull in lobster cages like the current method. The second method involves attaching a bag to each cage.
If the technology fails, fishermen do not have any way of retrieving their equipment. They also lack a way of marking where they plant their cages.
Scientists warn if this technology is not pursued, the only other option to save the whales is government regulation of fishing seasons and areas, which would devastate the industry much more than ropeless fishing.
“Our goal in developing ropeless fishing methods is to give those fishermen who are interested in solving this problem the tools to do so,” Woods Hole biologist Mark Baumgartner told The Boston Globe. “I have yet to hear of any other solution from the industry, scientists, or conservationists that will solve this problem once and for all. Ropeless fishing will solve this problem.”
Scientists tried to tackle the problem of whales tangling themselves in ropes by changing the ropes color in 2014, The Associated Press reported.
The New England Aquarium’s Scott Kraus, a leading researcher on northern right whales, conducted tests with different color ropes. Whales seemed to react more to brighter colors, such as orange and yellow, and safely avoid the ropes.
Some lobstermen were skeptical about the practicality of brightly colored ropes, noting that they would eventually fade and need to be replaced.