New technology being developed to track fishing gear and save whales

Monday, July 21, 2008
Cape Cod, MA - USA
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) and NOAA Fisheries Service have partnered to support two research projects aimed at new technologies that could help protect the region’s large whales from entanglement in fishing gear. The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the University of New Hampshire have each received grants for the work.
“Two iconic species in our region face unprecedented threats: whales and commercial fishermen,” said Patrick Ramage, IFAW Global Whale Program Director.  “We hope the new technology developed through this initiative will benefit both.  All of us at IFAW are proud to be partnering with the fishing industry and government agencies to promote solutions that benefit animals and people.”
 
“Entanglements are rarely documented as they are occurring, so we need to gather other data to help us understand when, where and how they happen.  That way we can adjust our protective measures accordingly,” said Mary Colligan, NOAA Northeast assistant regional administrator for protected resources. “These projects are promising and we look forward to the results,” she said.
 
With its $22,000 grant, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies will develop coded wire tags that would be embedded into fishing line used on the gear known to entangle whales, primarily pot/trap and sink gillnet. When line is recovered from entangled whales, it is usually hard to determine where it originated. The coded information on the wire would provide specific identifiers useful for improving gear restrictions used to reduce entanglement risk. The work will be carried out in cooperation with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MADMF), and Northwest Marine Technologies (NMT).
 
The University of New Hampshire’s Zoology Department was awarded $48,000 to develop a system for remote, real-time tracking of fishing gear location.  The system would use a radio frequency identification (RFID) scheme and global positioning system (GPS). If successful, this could provide substantial new information on fishing patterns—how much gear is set, when, and where. This could be used, for example, to improve measures that reduce gear in the places, and during the times, large whales are most likely to be present. The UNH team will partner with Blue Water Concepts of Maine to develop this innovative technology.
 
IFAW has been working for more than a decade supporting and developing new systems and technologies that will help the fishing industry and whales better co-exist in a safe environment for both. This includes working with the US government to develop the Mandatory Ship Reporting System, coordinating with Massachusetts lobstermen to remove miles of discarded or lost fishing gear from Cape Cod Bay, and most recently partnering with the lobster fishing industry and government agencies to develop and implement new “sinking” fishing line that reduces the risk of whale entanglements. 

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