“Fishing Gear Innovations: Transitioning to Ropeless Gear for Marine Life Protection”

Fishing Gear Innovations: Transitioning to Ropeless Gear to Protect Marine Life

Fishing gear entanglements are a major threat to the survival of North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals. Ropeless fishing gear, also known as on-demand, pop-up, or buoyless systems, offers a solution by eliminating the vertical lines that connect buoys on the surface to traps on the seafloor. While the concept of ropeless gear has been around for some time, its adoption has been hindered by high costs and resistance from the fishing community. However, recent analysis suggests that as the adoption of this innovative gear scales up, costs could significantly decrease. This report explores the financial implications of transitioning to ropeless gear in the commercial lobster fishery and urges regulatory authorities to support this transition.

The Need for Ropeless Fishing Gear

With fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining, the risk of entanglement in fishing gear poses a significant threat to their survival. Implementing ropeless fishing gear can help reduce this risk by eliminating the maze of vertical lines that whales can become entangled in. Additionally, ropeless gear can also benefit fishermen by allowing them to continue fishing while minimizing the harm to marine life.

The Cost of Transitioning to Ropeless Gear

Transitioning to ropeless fishing gear comes with significant costs. The analysis of two sectors of the commercial lobster fishery reveals that it could cost over $24 million to convert 70 offshore permit holders to ropeless gear in one sector and $125 million to outfit 409 nearshore boats in the other. However, these costs are projected to decrease by up to 50% as the adoption of ropeless gear scales up. This reduction in costs can be attributed to economies of scale, similar to the decrease in costs observed with any new technology.

The Role of NOAA Fisheries and Congress

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has recognized ropeless gear systems as the best solution to separate rope and right whales in high-risk areas. Legislation passed recently allocates funding for innovative gear technologies and directs NOAA to take action to facilitate the transition to ropeless gear. However, private sector investment is also crucial. This report aims to serve as a starting point for securing the funding necessary for creating a healthy ocean where both whales and fishermen can thrive.

Cost Analysis and Projections

The financial model created for this report takes into account factors such as the cost of outfitting a vessel, the pricing of ropeless gear systems, and regulatory requirements. The analysis focuses on two sectors of the commercial lobster fishery in Massachusetts: nearshore fishermen in Lobster Management Area 1 and offshore lobstermen in Lobster Management Area 3. By analyzing available data, the report estimates that converting all vessels in Lobster Management Area 1 would cost approximately $128 million, while converting all 70 active permit holders in Lobster Management Area 3 would amount to roughly $24 million. These costs vary based on factors such as the number of traps set and the number of ropeless releases used.

Incentive for Further Investment

Although the costs of transitioning to ropeless gear are significant, they should not discourage further adoption of this solution. Currently, the volume of ropeless gear systems produced is limited, which prevents the realization of economies of scale. However, if just the two sectors analyzed in this report fully converted, the volume of gear produced would increase significantly, leading to a potential 50% reduction in costs for these sectors alone. If additional sectors, such as the Maine fishery, were to convert, costs could decrease even further.

The Financial Benefit of Reduced Gear Loss

The report also models the financial benefit of reduced gear loss that could result from the use of ropeless gear. With the ability to send acoustic signals to indicate their location, release systems attached to ropeless gear would be easier to locate if moved by storms or other vessels. This feature could help fishermen recover lost gear more efficiently, resulting in cost savings.

Funding and Legislation

Recent legislation has set aside funds to support the development of technologies that reduce the impact of human activities on right whales. The allocated $20 million for fiscal year 2023, along with the potential for an additional $500 million over the next ten years, could play a crucial role in making the transition to ropeless gear a reality. Proper appropriation of these funds is essential for ensuring their effectiveness in facilitating this transition. Furthermore, ongoing gear tests supported by NOAA aim to ensure that ropeless gear is safe, reliable, and efficient for fishermen to use in various conditions.


Transitioning to ropeless fishing gear is necessary to protect North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals from the dangers of entanglement. While the costs of this transition are significant, they are projected to decrease as the adoption of ropeless gear scales up. Securing the necessary funding, both through government support and private sector investment, is crucial for facilitating this transition. By embracing ropeless gear, lobster fishermen can continue their trade while contributing to the conservation of marine life. Without this critical transition, both fishermen and right whales face a bleak future. Support from individuals and organizations is essential to drive systemic change and ensure a thriving ocean ecosystem.

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