Controversy surrounds new ropeless lobster fishing technology.

North American Lobster Industry Confronts 'Ropeless'
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The fishing industry is facing new technology aimed at reducing whale entanglements that is causing concern among lobster harvesters. Environmental groups are calling for the industry to adopt new gear that only suspends ropes briefly in the water before traps are pulled out of the water. Lobsters are on a red list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch due to the threat to whales from ropes, leading to retailers such as Whole Foods to stop selling them. However, lobstermen argue that ropeless gear is expensive and poses technological risks, further stating that it does little for whales.

North Atlantic Right Whales have been injured since the start of this year due to fishing rope entanglement. Traditional lobster fishing involves traps connected by a rope to a buoy floating at the surface. In contrast, ropeless gear activates a release trigger by remote control deploying a rope and a buoy to the surface. Washington and Ottawa are promoting ropeless fishing as a possible solution along with other regulations for lobster and crab fisheries. Lobstermen in Maine, who catch 80% of the US’s lobster, are concerned about high overhead costs and inevitable technical glitches that could cause them to lose tens of thousands of dollars of traps on the sea bed.

North Atlantic Right Whales, who live off the eastern North American coast, are on the verge of extinction. There are fewer than 350 remaining, with just 70 breeding females, and at least nine have been killed due to entanglements since 2017. Lobstermen state that not a single North Atlantic Right Whale death has been attributed to Maine lobster gear, and that the whales’ current migratory path puts them east of the lobster fishing grounds there. Meanwhile, Canadian measures to protect the whales include reducing ship speeds, and requiring the fishing industry to use weak rope links in their lines. The challenge remains to broker a sustainable solution.

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