Finance fishing boats

New England lobster and crabbers could start using experimental ropeless gear with federal permits

Federal fisheries officials are offering a special permit allowing up to 100 New England lobster and crab fishers to use experimental high-tech systems to retrieve their traps. This would mark a big expansion in the development of fishing systems that could help protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The technology uses remote control systems to locate and trigger surface traps or buoys, reducing the use of vertical ropes that can entangle right whales.

Henry Milliken oversees a prototyping program for so-called “ropeless” gear at the Northeast Marine Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.

“Our goal is to work with the fishermen, to familiarize them with the gear outside of closed areas, outside of times when right whales are present, and then when everyone is experienced, everyone is comfortable , then allow them to fish in the closed areas,” says Milliken.

Most Maine anglers dismiss the technology as impractical in the state’s various fishing areas. But a handful try it quietly. Milliken says industry participation in the design of usable and cost-effective systems will be critical to their success. He says his agency’s budget for purchasing prototype systems to loan to fishermen is supplemented by contributions from conservation groups, but it will take time to fund all the systems the new license would allow. The deadline for public comments on Proposal is June 16.