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Whale Safe Gear Adoption Fund

To help protect North Atlantic right whales and other whale species, Fisheries and Oceans Canada set new regulations stating that non-tended fixed gear fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, including the snow crab and lobster fisheries, will be required to use whalesafe gear. While the timeline for implementing this is still being determined,  DFO’s Whalesafe Gear Adoption Fund (WSGF) has providing assistance towards the purchase, testing, and refinement of whalesafe gear in advance of making gear innovations fully operational. 


Whalesafe gear falls into two general categories: 1) low breaking-strength rope or links that are designed to break at 1,700 pounds of force, and 2) systems that allow fishing gear to be deployed without a vertical line in the water (either rope-on-demand systems that stow buoy lines at the sea floor, or inflatable bag systems that eliminate buoy lines). 


FNFA conducted a project under the WSGF program that tested a variety of innovative low breaking-strength devices for our lobster and crab fisheries from Spring 2022 to Spring 2023. The main goal of the project was to develop configurations of weak endlines for lobster and crab gear in the Bay of Fundy that would reduce the risk of entanglement to marine mammals, while being successfully fished. 


This project directly addressed the primary objective of the WSGF program by testing workable configurations of weak lines for the variety of fishing styles that take place in LFA 36. It is an area that has extreme conditions in tides and current, and an area that has a lot of variability of gear configuration. For these reasons, it was critical to assess weak rope options that can work across a variety of fishing styles in one of the most extreme fishing environments in the world. These weak ropes were tested over a period of two Spring fishing seasons and one Fall fishing season (*Note: LFA 36 has a split lobster season which includes both a Spring and Fall component annually). While this trial is a starting place to assess the utility of ‘whale-safe gear’,  we believe a crucial priority will be continuing to collect information to assess how much ropes would weaken after consecutive fishing seasons. This would provide vital information to assess the lifecycle of new gear modifications.  


For this reason, this project mainly focused on finding cost effective solutions by trialling and comparing the 5/16in ropes that are commercially available, 3/8in weak ropes that have been developed specifically to be compliant with whale-safe recommendations, and in-link weak links. Some of these modifications were successful, which has changed the outlook of what gear adaptations are possible for our area. 

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