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 as their fishing seasons open in 2023. DFO’s Whalesafe Gear Adoption Fund (WSGF) is providing assistance towards the purchase, testing and refinement of whalesafe gear with in advance of making gear innovations fully operational by 2023.
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 is conducting a project under the WSGF program that will test 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 is to develop configurations of weak endlines for lobster and crab gear in the Bay of Fundy that will reduce the risk of entanglement to marine mammals, while ebing successfully fished.
This project will directly address the primary objective of the WSGF program by developing 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 will be 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 will be 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 will be a starting place to assess the utility of ‘whale-safe gear’, a priority we believe is crucial will be collecting information to assess how much ropes will weaken after consecutive fishing seasons. This would provide vital information to assess the lifecycle of new gear modifications.
We at Fundy North anticipate that, if we can effectively weaken endlines while maintaining fishing integrity, we can effectively reduce the risk of entanglement for whales while ensuring that harvesters can still successfully retrieve and haul their gear. This way we would also be able to demonstrate that there would be no increase in lost gear due to modifications to endlines.
For this reason, this project mainly focuses 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. If these modifications prove to be successful, it would drastically change the landscape of what gear adaptations are possible for implementation by 2023.