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SeaWorld & Busch Gardens conservation fund commits $900,000 to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales

The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund announced that it has committed $900,000 over the next three years in the fight to save the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.  The announcement was made by Dr. Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, alongside Dr. Hendrik Nollens, Corporate Vice President of Animal Health and Welfare at SeaWorld and President of the SeaWorld Conservation Fund, during yesterday’s 2019 Ropeless Consortium meeting, an annual summit to help protect marine animals, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

The funding provided by the SeaWorld Conservation Fund will be primarily used to test alternative non-lethal fishing gear.  Whales and sea turtles commonly entangle in ropes that connect crab or lobster traps on the sea floor to buoys on the sea surface. These ropes allow fishermen to haul their traps to the sea surface, and the buoy allows fishermen to locate gear.   Removing this end line from trap and pot fishing gear will significantly reduce or even eliminate entanglements. There are promising prototypes available for evaluation by scientists, regulators and fishermen, but few resources for proper testing of these systems. Support by the SeaWorld Conservation Fund will be used to evaluate the cost, the operational impact to the fishermen and the safety for the whales, as well as advance public awareness of the issues.

Ropeless fishing to prevent large whale entanglements: Ropeless Consortium report

Published in Marine Policy

The 2017 North Atlantic right whale (NARW) unusual mortality event and an increase in humpback whale entanglements off the U.S. West Coast have driven significant interest in ropeless trap/pot fishing. Removing the vertical buoy lines used to mark traps on the sea floor and haul them up would dramatically reduce or eliminate entanglements, the leading cause of NARW mortality, while potentially allowing fishermen to harvest in areas that would otherwise need to be closed to protect whales. At the first annual Ropeless Consortium meeting, researchers, fishing industry representatives, manufacturers, conservationists, and regulators discussed existing and developing technological replacements for the marking and retrieval functions of buoy lines. Fishermen and NGO partners shared their experience demonstrating ropeless systems and provided feedback to improve the designs. U.S. and Canadian federal regulators discussed prospects to use ropeless fishing gear in areas closed to fishing with vertical lines, as well as other options to reduce entanglements, and a Massachusetts official shared additional regulatory considerations involved in ropeless fishing in state waters. Sustainable seafood experts discussed consumer market advantages and endangered, threatened, and protected species impacts in sustainability standards and certifications. Moving forward, there is an immediate need to (1) work with industry partners to iteratively test and improve ropeless retrieval and marking systems to adapt them to the specific conditions of the relevant trap/pot fisheries, (2) create data sharing and communications protocols for ropeless gear location marking, and (3) develop regulatory procedures and enforcement capacity to allow legal ropeless gear use.


Overcoming Development, Regulatory and Funding Challenges for Rope-less Fishing in the U.S. and Canada

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium hosted a one-day workshop on Thursday, February 1, 2018 entitled “Overcoming Development, Regulatory and Funding Challenges for Rope-less Fishing in the U.S. and Canada.”  The workshop was motivated by the most recent assessment of North Atlantic right whales, which indicated that the species is in its 7th consecutive year of decline with only about 450 whales left.  Fishing gear entanglements cause the majority of right whale deaths, and also contribute to declining calving rates through the prolonged health effects of non-lethal entanglements.  The development and eventual operational use of rope-less fishing has the exciting promise to eliminate all trap/pot gear entanglements, the cause of most right whale entanglement deaths.

The objectives of the workshop were to (1) discuss the need for and approaches to implementing rope-less fishing to reduce entanglements of large whales in trap/pot fisheries, (2) discuss and develop regulatory pathways to make rope-less fishing legal in the United States and Canada, and (3) discuss strategies to fund two phases of development: demonstration/evaluation and experimental fisheries.  The workshop format consisted of presentations followed by facilitated discussion on the urgent need for rope-less fishing techniques, the current state of development of rope-less fishing, technical development plans, regulatory challenges and solutions, and the funding landscape.