Jonah Crab Gear Innovation Project

Through gear trials and pilot projects, innovative leaders in the fishing industry are conducting the research and development that will allow fellow fishers to continue to earn their livelihoods at times and in places where static rope cannot be used without endangering whales.

These projects get fishing lines out of the water, while capturing important feedback from fishers, whose expertise is needed for developing solutions and improving ropeless systems.

Jonah crab has long been considered as bycatch of the lobster industry. In recent years, market demand for Jonah crab has increased and so have landings. In 2013, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute worked with local industry stakeholders to develop a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) to establish a fishery management plan for Jonah crab.

Now, both the Jonah crab and American lobster fisheries are facing another challenge: critically endangered North Atlantic right whales have changed their migration patterns due to warming ocean waters and climate change, and that has brought them into contact with static rope in fisheries that did not interact with right whales before.

The primary cause of mortality and serious injury to most of these whales is from vessel strikes and rope entanglements from static pot and trap fishing gear in areas that overlap with right whale habitat. People who fish for crab and lobster in this habitat are increasingly unable to use traditional gear, as fishing areas are closed to this type of gear to protect whales.

One solution is the use of on demand, or “ropeless” pot and trap gear, which can be deployed in areas where fisheries are likely to overlap with whales to remove the static rope from the water column while still allowing fishers to access their gear by summoning it with acoustic or other signaling mechanisms.

This Gear Innovation Project is a Basic FIP and will pilot and consistently trial such ropeless gears. Participants will provide feedback and data to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and directly to gear manufacturers, with recommendations on how they can improve their product for use in the fishery.

Pilot projects give fishers the opportunity to test the gear and provide critical feedback to manufacturers, while allowing fishers to get more comfortable with ropeless fishing.


November 2023
  • Three vessels enlisted.
  • Approximately 750,000 pounds of FIP eligible live Jonah Crab has been processed.
  • Nearly 25,000 pounds of finished crab product have been distributed to retailers.
In the meantime, the GIP is still in the process on gathering feedback on how the gear is performing and fisher interest in continuing to use ropeless gear.
The GIP is also actively engaged in conversations with other crab fishermen and crab buyers in hopes that more will be interested in trialing ropeless gear and to sign onto the Gear Innovation Project.
The GIP is also in efforts to find more buyers willing to support this GIP.
This site will updated with regular reports on activities and progress.

Learn More

For more information on the Gear Innovation Project, please reach out to the Bycatch Solutions Hub.