New ropeless fishing technology tested in Canada to save whales

Some of the leading causes of whale mortality include ship strikes, pollution, habitat loss, climate change, and entanglement in fishing gear. The latter kill around 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises each year.

⋙ Collisions with ships, the leading cause of death for whales in the Mediterranean

Whales threatened by fishing nets

Despite protective measures and the cessation of commercial whaling, whale populations are declining. Six of the 13 species of large whales are now classified as threatened or vulnerable by the IUCN. This is particularly the case of the right whales of the North Atlantic (also called right whales), of which only 336 individuals remain. According to a study published by biologist Michael Moore, 85% of right whale deaths between 2010 and 2015 were caused by entanglements with fishing gear.

⋙ In the Atlantic, scientists at the bedside of right whales

In order to protect these whales, which are found in Canadian waters in particular, various Canadian companies have joined forces to create a fishing technology without a net.

A new acoustic technology

It is an acoustic technology developed by Jasco Applied Sciences, in partnership with the Sea Mammal Education Learning Technology Society and the commercial fishing branch of the Miawpukek First Nation in Newfoundland.

The device was installed on crab and lobster traps, then deployed off Harbor Breton and just outside St. John’s Harbour. It allows fishermen to release the traps in the water and find them thanks to an acoustic signal. The traps are equipped with inflatable pockets that anglers can trigger when it’s time to bring them to the surface, Jasco engineering manager John Moloney explained in the press.

Traditional traps are attached to buoys by long ropes that float vertically upwards in the water. Passing whales can be trapped in the lines. Without these long fishing ropes, the danger is therefore much less for cetaceans.

⋙ Migration of whales: scientists create a map of the “highways” taken by cetaceans

There are still several obstacles to the wide distribution of this device, starting with its high price. But John Moloney says Jasco would make it more affordable.

“I think in 10 years when you talk about fishing with ropes, people will look at you like you’re weird, he says. It will replace tug-of-war, that’s for sure!”

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