Fisheries & Aquaculture News

Fishery Managers Vote in Favor of On-Demand Gear in South Atlantic Fishery

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) voted to start the process to permanently allow ropeless, or on-demand fishing gear, in the black sea bass fishery from North Carolina to Florida. Entanglement in fishing gear, specifically the lines and ropes used in fixed gear, is one of the biggest threats to critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Fishermen in the black sea bass fishery utilize a range of fishing gear, including hook-and-line and “pots” or fish traps. Because of the risk that ropes and lines used in pots and traps pose to North Atlantic right whales, the fishery observes two seasonal closures each year off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. These closures remove the gear and the lines from the water during the whales’ calving season. The SAFMC’s vote is the first step in the process to permanently allow fishermen who use ropeless or on-demand fishing gear to continue to fish during seasonal closures without an exemption. Fishermen who wish to use traditional gear will still be able to do so outside of the closures.

“Oceana applauds today’s decision to move toward ropeless fishing in areas where North Atlantic right whales are found,” said Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan, who also delivered comments in support of the action at the related public hearing yesterday. “If adopted, this first-of-its-kind action will build on years of at-sea trials and set the precedent that fishermen and whales can coexist. More fishery managers should look to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council as an example of how to modernize their fisheries. Oceana calls on all fishery managers facing entanglement challenges to embrace ropeless gear.”

Entanglement in fishing gear is a leading cause of death for the estimated 340 remaining North Atlantic right whales. Ropes have been seen wrapped around the mouths, fins, tails, and bodies, which slow them down; make it difficult to swim, reproduce, and feed; and can cause death. These lines cut into whales’ flesh, leading to life-threatening infections, and are so strong that they have severed fins and tails, and cut into bone. Around one-quarter of the North Atlantic right whale population is entangled in fishing gear each year, and about 85% of whales have been entangled at least once in their lifetime.

On-demand gear has many benefits for fishermen. It allows access to areas currently closed in times in which the fish are more readily available closer to shore. This could result in more profit with fewer direct costs to the fishermen and access to new markets. The preliminary estimated cost to equip the South Atlantic black sea bass pot fishery with on-demand gear is around $500,000 and may be offset by grants and federal funds for gear modification.


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