By ODA Advisory Board Member Catherine W. Kilduff, Esq.
Editor’s Note: In addition to serving on our Advisory Board, Catherine is a staff attorney in the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy organization with the mission to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction.
We have good news! California is finally adopting rules to protect whales and sea turtles from deadly entanglements in commercial crab lines. These rules follow years of elevated entanglements, steady advocacy, and innovative conservation science that supports fishing closures during whale and turtle migrations. Managing a huge commercial fishery to avoid endangered animals is major accomplishment.
But California’s new rules don’t go far enough to encourage and approve popup, or ropeless, fishing gear. Every crab trap connects to a surface buoy with a vertical line, forcing endangered whales and sea turtles to navigate a minefield of thousands of vertical lines off California. This is particularly problematic when these whales and turtles are feeding on dense aggregations of fish, krill, or – in the case of sea turtles – jellyfish.
Ropeless fishing gear requires no surface buoy, and therefore no vertical line. The trap itself or a buoy at the bottom of the ocean deploys when remotely released by the fishermen. That way, any vertical line is only in the water when a fisherman is ready to retrieve a trap. Companies like EdgeTech have been manufacturing the acoustic release systems that bring buoys to the surface for over 30 years for various applications. Now they have commercially available, off-the-shelf systems specific to fishing traps.
Note: Below you can see lobster traps, sitting on the ocean floor, with their lines floating up to the surface where they attach to a buoy with an identification marker. At the end of this article, please see the photo gallery for more images.
Testing new gear is ongoing, and will pick up momentum with funding allocated by California’s Ocean Protection Council. But California’s proposed regulations would set out the process to allow ropeless gear when a fisherman wants to actively use it as part of the regular fishery. That can’t happen soon enough!
California’s crab industry doesn’t need to entangle any whales and sea turtles. It’s time to adopt new tech, like pop-up buoys and ropeless crab traps. The proposed regulations should establish a path to approving this whale-safe fishing gear.
Ocean Defenders Alliance joined over thirty other organizations in asking for specific rule changes to make ropeless gear a reality. Having tracking devices can also help reduce lost fishing gear, which means less for others to clean up. Check out the pictures at the links below of entanglements in the past few months. There is a better way to fish, and it’s ropeless.
For all you gear-heads out there, also check out these companies that West Coast crab fishermen have used in testing so far:
- Blue Ocean Gear (GPS buoy)
- Longsoaker Fishing Systems (pop up gear; timed galvanic release)
- Desert Star (pop-up gear; acoustic release)
- Fiomarine (pop-up gear; acoustic release)
One more company that has been tested on the East Coast, and will hopefully be used on the West Coast soon, is EdgeTech.
Whale entanglement images from NOAA: