Up to 100 commercial lobster vessels would be allowed to test alternative gear without static vertical lines, under an exempted fishing permit application filed by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

Up to 30 of those boats would be allowed to fish using so-called ropeless gear in areas where conventional lobster gear with vertical line is restricted under the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, according to a notice issued May 31 by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The permit application, to be published in the June 1 Federal Register, is subject to a public comment period through June 15. NMFS is looking to on-demand or pop-up buoy retrieval systems in the lobster fishery as a long-term solution to reducing whale entanglements in lobster gear, particularly for the highly endangered northern right whale.

On-demand systems release buoys to surface when they receive and acoustic signal from a lobster vessel.

“In recognition of industry’s interest in grappling as a low-cost alternative to acoustic on-demand systems, this project would allow up to 25 vessels to fish via grappling to enable the Center to collect data on the viability of grappling at a commercial scale,” according to the notice.

The permit application states that up to 100 vessels could replace up to 10 of their existing trawls with modified trawls, “that replace one or both vertical lines with acoustic on-demand systems or other alternatives to static buoy lines (including, but not limited to, spooled systems, buoy and stowed rope systems, lift bag systems, and grappling).”

Under a previous permit, the Northeast science center has worked on gear trials with five New England commercial vessels. The expanded program could use up to 1,000 modified trawls until May 1, 2023.

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