WOODS HOLE – More and more whales are becoming snarled in fishing gear, often dying slow, painful deaths.
Two Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) engineers have invented a lobster trap device that they say could help whales avert entanglements and, at the same time, might allow currently restricted waters to be safely reopened for lobster fishing.
In New England’s offshore lobster fishery, long vertical ropes or “lines” connect the traps on the bottom to floats on the water’s surface, so fishermen can locate their trawls and drag them back up.
The new device is called the “on-call” buoy and floats near the bottom attached to lobster traps.
With a timer or an acoustic signal, the device can be activated to unspool its line and float up to the surface for retrieval.
The system would store the vertical line on the seafloor, keeping the lines out of the way large swimming animals, until the fishing vessel crew releases it and is on site and ready to haul it in.
Beyond protecting whales, the on-call buoys could have other potential benefits for lobster fishermen, preventing the loss of costly gear to entanglements.
The buoys might eventually open the door to allowing fishing during the three months each year when some New England offshore waters are closed because whales are in the vicinity.