New technology promises to save the whales by reducing the need for crab fishing lines

Monterey County Now

After a slightly better year in 2017, the number of whales getting entangled in fishing gear has gone back up, according to a new report from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Researchers confirmed 105 whale entanglements nationwide in 2018, the latest year for which data is available, noting the number is “much higher” than average.

These findings come as a possible solution emerges out of a collaboration being led by Monterey Bay conservationists, fishermen and fishing gear designers.

On the Pacific coast, whales pass through stretches of ocean that are important for Dungeness crab fishing and they sometimes get caught in lines connecting traps on the ocean floor to buoys at the surface. Technology that is under development would all but eliminate vertical lines and buoys. Using ropeless or pop-up innovations, these new crab traps would sit idly on the ocean floor until receiving an acoustic signal from the fisherman. Only then would the trap release a rope and buoy to the surface.

“We are working with fishermen to see what works and what doesn’t and what allows the fisherman to survive economically,” says Geoff Shester, a Monterey-based scientist with nonprofit Oceana. “The Monterey Bay is the epicenter of the whale entanglement issue.”