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Rethinking crab and lobster gear to help save North Atlantic Right Whales

Posted by Casey Brennan | , United States

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, with less than 400 individuals remaining. One of the biggest threats they face is entanglement in fishing gear, usually crab or lobster trap lines. Government agencies are trying to find ways to reduce 'vertical lines' in the water and are looking at 'ropeless traps' as an option. But such traps would be prohibitively expensive and would require fishermen to replace their current trap inventory. But what if there was an easier, more cost effective solution?

My idea is to create a dissolvable link.

Currently, traps are set with a vertical line (rope) that attaches on one end to the trap, and on the other end to a buoy that floats on the surface of the water. This vertical line is the largest threat to whales, but it is also how fishermen are able to retrieve their gear. My proposal is to create a dissolvable link to minimize the amount of time that vertical line exists.

In this new setup, the trap, the vertical line and the buoy would all sink to the bottom of the ocean when the fishermen sets his trap. The buoy would be held to the trap (or to a short leader) by means of a dissolvable hook or ring. The ring would slowly dissolve once exposed to ocean water and eventually fail, sending the buoy to the surface.

Different rings or hooks would need to be designed and manufactured to persist for a variety of time periods- 24 hours, 48 hours, 96 hours etc. depending on the specific needs of the fishery and the fisherman. This could be done by varying the thickness of the material perhaps, but would need to be researched and manufactured.

By using this setup, the number of vertical lines in the water could be substantially reduced, greatly reducing the threats to whales. The rings/hooks would be designed / selected to dissolve at the same time the fishermen would normally haul his gear. Fishermen would not even need to use them year round... just when whales are likely to be present. It also allows fishermen to not need to replace their current traps... just rig them differently (and buy these new dissolvable links). The links would need to be inexpensive of course, since fishermen will need to add this as a cost to their operations.

Thank you for considering this.

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