Key Takeaways

  • Twelve lobster harvesters working with the NEFSC fished fully ropeless lobster trawls in fishing areas closed to buoy lines for the first time.
  • They conducted 527 trawls with an 89.5% first attempt retrieval success rate, compared to a fishery average of 5-15% annually.
  • In state waters 225 trawls were hauled with a 93.8% retrieval rate with a 3,338 keeper lobster catch total.
  • Zero gear conflict incidents occurred.

From March through June of this year, ten lobster fishermen worked with the Northeast Fishery Science Center (NEFSC) to deploy fully ropeless trawls in the Massachusetts Restricted Area and South Island Restricted Area, fishing zones closed to buoy lines to protect North Atlantic Right Whales.

As of June 12th, 527 trawls were set and hauled with an 89.5% retrieval success rate1.  This means that 89.5% returned to the surface on the first retrieval attempt with no complications from human error on the gear prep and set.  Grappling is a common way of retrieving unsuccessful hauls and therefore actual gear loss was much lower than the 11.5% unsuccess rate.  For comparison, it is estimated that 5-15% of lobster gear is lost annually from the fishery using traditional buoy lines2.

In Massachusetts state waters, 225 fully ropeless trawls were hauled with a 93.8% retrieval success rate, resulting in a catch of 3,338 lobsters.  Fishermen also reported sighting 14 of the right whales while fishing1.

Just as important, there were zero gear conflict incidents.  This includes not only with other lobster harvesters, but also overlapping mobile fleets such as scallop dredgers.  For the trials, all vessels were outfitted with EdgeTech ropeless systems and a table with the EdgeTech Track Trapper app installed.  The EdgeTech trap mounted transducer can “speak” with in-hull transducers in vessels and therefore provide real-time updates on the trap location underwater when vessels pass within detection range.  This real-time location is then updated onto the Trap Tracker mapping platform, which allows anyone with the app open to see exactly where the traps are located on the ocean floor and plan their sets or tows around them.

These trials are another step towards large-scale implementation of ropeless systems in demersal pot/trap fisheries that create high entanglement risk for large whales, especially the North Atlantic Right Whale.  While considered highly successful, trap density was purposefully kept low to test the gear location software in an environment with a low likelihood of gear conflicts.  Results and fishermen feedback will help improve geolocation software to allow future fishing to occur in areas with a higher gear density.


Read More

1 Completed: On-demand (Ropeless) Gear Testing In Closed Fishing Areas | NOAA Fisheries

2 Fishing Gear Recovery | Center for Coastal Studies