On-Demand Fishing Gear is on the Table in the South Atlantic - Oceana USA

On-Demand Fishing Gear is on the Table in the South Atlantic

Ropeless fishing gear can catch black sea bass and protect North Atlantic right whales from entanglements

Press Release Date: February 13, 2024

Location: Charleston


Megan Jordan, Tami von Isakovics | Blue Wagon Group | email: mjordan@oceana.org, tami@bluewagongroup.com | tel: 202.868.4061, 415-225-7284

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) convened today to discuss formalizing the use of ropeless, or on-demand, fishing gear. This public meeting follows a 2023 report showing on-demand pots were effective at catching black sea bass while also reducing North Atlantic right whale entanglements. 

Commercial fishers conducted initial testing of on-demand fishing gear from North Carolina to Florida, which is also in the annual migratory path for North Atlantic right whales. These studies have shown ropeless gear to be a viable tool for the fishery that will allow expanded fishing opportunities in areas and during times that overlap with whale migrations. Once approved, the new regulations allowing ropeless gear are expected to be effective in early 2025.

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, of which an estimated 356 individuals remain alive today. 

“The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is showing that both whales and fisheries can coexist and thrive,” said Alexandra Aines, marine scientist at Oceana. “Oceana applauds the initial work that has been done to develop ropeless gear technology and the participating fishers piloting the gear. We’re one step closer to better protections for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and a simultaneously thriving black sea bass fishery. Once adopted, the new regulations will have an immediate effect in protecting these whales and offer an avenue for continued success for the commercial fishing industry. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is a pioneer and should serve as a guide to other fishery managers on how to modernize their operations to protect North Atlantic right whales and fishers.” 

Fishers 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. When new regulations are adopted, it will permanently allow fishers who use ropeless or on-demand fishing gear to continue to fish during seasonal closures without an exemption. Fishers who wish to use traditional gear will still be able to do so outside of the closures. 

Entanglement in fishing gear is a leading cause of death for the estimated 356 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 fishers. 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 fishers 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.