A new series of testing ropeless lobster gear got underway Feb. 1 in waters off Massachusetts and Rhode Island, a cooperative effort with up to 30 commercial lobster crews working with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

The fishermen are testing  on-demand (also called ropeless) fishing gear  in state and federal waters that are otherwise closed to lobster and Jonah crab fishing with static vertical lines, seasonal closures aimed at protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales from danger of entanglement.

“Participating vessels will fish trap trawls without any surface gear marks in the ‘potential on-demand testing areas.’ The fixed gear involved in this research will not be visible at the surface since it has no surface buoys,” according to a NEFSC advisory. 

“Our gear team and participating fishermen are particularly concerned about gear conflict this winter and spring in the potential on-demand testing area immediately west of the Great South Channel in former Groundfish Closed Area 1. On-demand gear in that area is set northwest to southeast in trawls approximately 1.5 nautical miles in length. The buoy marked end could be on either end.”

If other fishermen accidentally tow up an on-demand trap unit, organizers ask that they do not discard it, but keep it on board and contact the NEFSC Gear Research Team.

While the gear is unmarked on the surface, lobster boats conducting this research during the Restricted Area seasons will be flying this gold flag:

Up to 30 commercial lobster vessels that are participating in on-demand gear testing fly this identifying flag. NEFSC image.

To visualize the gear positions and orientations of on-demand trawls, interested mariners can also download and subscribe to the EdgeTech Trap Tracker app (currently $24.99 + $14.99 subscription fee) on the Apple or Google Play app stores with any smartphone or tablet.

Participating vessels will fish trap trawls without any surface gear marks in the “potential on-demand testing areas.” These are the darker shaded areas outlined in black within the restricted areas shown on the chart.

The testing seasons within the potential on-demand testing areas as follows:

·       South Island Restricted Area and the Massachusetts Restricted Area from February 1 to April 30 2024

·       Great South Channel Restricted Area from April 1 to June 30, 2024

Experimental fishing with on-demand gear will also occur outside of the testing seasons within the same areas. This gear will be marked with standard surface gear on one end while testing ropeless gear on the other end.

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