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2023 Ropeless Consortium | Oceanwatch Australia

In late 2023, OceanWatch was awarded an educational travel bursary from FRDC to attend the 2023 Ropeless Consortium in Nova Scotia, Canada with five trap fisher representatives from around Australia to learn more about innovation in ropeless fishing technology.

The trip brought fishers from the Queensland spanner crab fishery, the New South Wales Ocean Trap & Line fishery, the Victorian southern rock lobster fishery, the South Australian southern rock lobster fishery, and the Western Australia western rock lobster fishery.
The week in Nova Scotia allowed the group to attend the Ropeless Consortium conference and multiple gear demonstrations, and meet with various gear developers, fisheries representatives, and local fishers to explore how ropeless fishing has been implemented in North America.
2023 Ropeless Consortium

Ropeless gear innovation has quickly progressed out of necessity in North America in efforts to help protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale population on the east coast and further protect humpback and blue whale populations on the west coast. The decline in these whale populations has led to snap closures of some fisheries (e.g. Dungeness crab fishery), has heavily impacted fishing operations around North America, and has created notable pressure from the conservation sector towards promoting “whale safe” seafood. The Ropeless Consortium is an annual conference started in 2018 which brings together gear developers, fisheries experts, conservation organisations, and local fishers to discuss viable solutions to help minimise fishery impacts on whale populations, adjusting regulations, and reduce the amount of rope in the water column, to ultimately allow fishers to continue fishing. The aim is not to entirely replace traditional trap fishing techniques, but rather offer options for fishers to continue to fish in closed areas during whale migration seasons. There is widespread recognition that there is no one-size-fits-all technology solution that will be viable for every fisher, as each operation runs and fishes in their own unique way. Although North America has made huge strides in gear development, it is evident there is still a long way to go before ropeless fishing becomes a viable solution for fishers to fully embrace.

Overall, this trip provided the group with a better understanding of the different prototype options available for ropeless fishing and how the systems are being implemented abroad. Although none of the group came back to Australia completely sold on the idea of adapting their fishing to ropeless during whale migration season, there was a unanimous take away that it is important to be proactive in our Australian fisheries’ approach to whale interactions.

To hear more about the different fishers’ perspectives from attending the conference trip, please see the videos below.

To hear more about the different fishers’ perspectives from attending the conference trip, please see the videos below.

Video links:

South Australia SRL

Victoria SRL

Queensland Spanner Crab

New South Wales OTL

Western Australia WRL

Playlist Link:

You can find more information about the different gear prototypes and options currently available and the fishers’ opinions of them in the Communique below.

East Coast Whale Entanglement Mitigation

The East Coast Whale Entanglement Mitigation Program has been initiated in NSW to respond to the issue of entanglement with NSW set fishing gear.

Helping Fishers and Humpback Whales Coexist

Closing critical mitigation gaps. Two innovative ropeless fishing systems will be trialled in the NSW Ocean Trap & Line fishery during the 2024 humpback whale migration season.

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