Over the last few years, the increased presence of whales, notably North Atlantic right whales, has risen to be one of the major fisheries concerns in the Maritimes.
Obviously, something is happened in the ecosystem that is causing the North Atlantic right whales to migrate in greater numbers to our waters. Fishermen, better than most, understand how the entire ocean ecosystem is interrelated and do not want to do anything that would harm or jeopardize a particular species. And it is imperative that fishermen not be painted as the villains in this scenario.
Both the fishing industry and regulatory bodies have been studying this problem for some time — particularly in the area of ropeless technology.
This technology was once thought of as pure science fiction, but not anymore.
The concept of using reliable fishing gear that is not attached by ropes to a surface buoy is not a new one, but has certainly garnered a lot more attention since much-publicized right whale entanglements and deaths made international headlines since 2017.
While a lot of effort has gone into developing ropeless gear, it is still in the conceptual stage. The technology has encountered resistance among fishermen and rightly so. It is far from proven that such fishing gear can work reliably in the harsh conditions of the north Atlantic. And there is the cost. Currently, each release mechanism costs about $1,500 to $1,700 and can last for 10 years.
South of the border, fishermen in Maine are also struggling with mitigation techniques aimed at reducing whale entanglements — which do not even involve ropeless technology.
Maine’s Department of Marine Resources is proposing that lobster fishermen use fewer buoy lines that could entangle whales by setting a minimum number of traps fished on each line in deeper waters and requiring the use of lines with weak points to help entangled whales break free.
However, according to the Portland Press Herald, lobster fishermen are pushing back on this idea. They are speaking out on how dangerous it could be to require those among them who fish in deeper waters to use rope weakened by knots, splices or sleeves while hauling trawls with more traps on them.
Weak rope is more likely to break when lifting a trawl loaded down with heavy traps, especially when a weak point passes through the hauler as the boat is surging up and down in choppy waters.
A lobsterman who fished off Vinalhaven, Maine, was reportedly badly injured a few years ago when a rope he was hauling snapped and hit him in the head.
As already stated, fishermen have to be part of the solution to fix this problem. They have more knowledge to offer than any other group — and the most to lose if heavy-handed regulations come down from on high without any thought or consideration for those that actual ply the waters in this region
Now is not the time for allotting blame and finger pointing. A good portion of the technology needed to overcome the right whale concerns already exists. And fishermen know this — if the regulators will only listen.
It is critical that the next step involves cooperation and patience. Consultations need to continue with the aim of establishing a fishery, funded by government and/or private foundations, to get the best working technology in the hands of fishermen to use and improve.