Atlantic Canada is taking significant strides in testing innovative whale-safe gear, moving closer to a solution for the longstanding problem of whales getting tangled in fishing gear. After five years of dedicated research and development, Nova Scotia's Ashored Innovations is now gearing up for mass production.
The focal point of this groundbreaking effort is the "MOBI" system, short for Modular Ocean Based Instrument. The conventional practice involves tethering one end of a line of lobster or crab pots to a surface buoy for easy retrieval. In contrast, the MOBI system stores the rope in a cage equipped with an acoustic sensor, submerged alongside the pots. Fishermen can trigger an acoustic signal through a tablet app when it's time to retrieve the gear, causing the rope and buoys to float to the surface.
While still undergoing testing, the MOBI system has shown tremendous promise, with approximately 150 systems already in use. In Canada, nearly one million pounds of snow crab were caught using ropeless gear in the previous year, mainly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has played a pivotal role in supporting initiatives to reduce the risks of whales becoming ensnared in fishing gear. In response to the increasing presence of endangered right whales in the Gulf region, DFO resorted to temporary fishing area closures during whale migrations. They committed $20 million in 2021 to fund research and development projects related to on-demand gear and low-breaking strength rope, fostering collaboration among various stakeholders.
(Chief Business Development Officer at Ashored)
Ashored Innovations' collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI) in St. John's proved crucial for testing the MOBI system in deeper waters, such as those found on crab fishing boats. These trials, funded by the Whale Safe program with over $700,000, involved several snow crab boats from different locations. The findings not only validated the system's performance in deeper waters but also provided valuable feedback from fishermen, leading to suggestions for improvements.
The overarching mission extends beyond protecting just right whales; it encompasses the safeguarding of all marine mammals, especially humpback whales, which are frequently ensnared in fishing gear around Newfoundland and Labrador. Through innovation, collaboration, and shared dedication to marine conservation, these efforts promise a safer future for both whales and the fishing industry.
Source: Barb D.S. (September 1, 2023). Without a rope: Atlantic Canada putting whale-safe gear to the test. Saltwire. https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/business/without-a-rope-atlantic-canada-putting-whale-safe-gear-to-the-test-100888276/