NOAA Enforcement Deploys Remotely Operated Vehicles to Patrol the Seas

December 18, 2020

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement deploys ROVs to inspect offshore lobster gear.

OLE enforcement officers use a remotely operated vehicle to inspect offshore lobster gear.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is increasing efforts to help ensure compliance with gear regulations in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American Lobster Trap/Pot Fishery. OLE is deploying remotely operated vehicles that will make inspecting offshore lobster gear more efficient.

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Right Whale entanglement diagram
Diagram showing how North Atlantic right whales become entangled in lobster trap lines.

This fishery operates primarily with traps that are set out by fishermen in fixed locations. The lines connecting traps to each other (groundlines) or to the surface buoy (vertical lines) can entangle marine mammals. Large whales, including endangered North Atlantic right whales, are particularly susceptible to entanglement because their habitat and feeding areas overlap with fisheries. The gear can cut into a whale’s body, cause serious injuries, and result in infections and death.

Entanglement in fishing gear is one of two primary threats to the North Atlantic right whale species’ survival (the other is vessel strikes). NOAA Fisheries implemented the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, which reduces injuries and deaths of large whales due to incidental entanglement in fishing gear. It includes requirements such as the use of sinking groundlines, surface gear markings, a minimum number of traps per trawl, and weak links (Video: Regulations for Right Whales). The take reduction team is in the process of updating these requirements to further reduce the risk of entanglement.

View outreach guides on the most recent requirements

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ROY line
ROV imagery of a weak lobster trap line connecting to a surface buoy.

It is OLE’s responsibility to enforce these rules in order to protect species like the right whale. The use of remotely operated vehicles has made it possible for OLE to inspect gear without having to physically retrieve the gear. The ROVs are equipped with a video camera, lighting, sonar, and a manipulator arm. When deployed, the ROV can detect and record any gear or tag violation from the ocean surface down to the ocean floor.

“We are excited about the usage of ROVs in our ongoing efforts to promote gear compliance in offshore lobster fisheries,” said James Landon, director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. “The successful deployment of this technology improves our ability to effectively and safely do our jobs and should help to boost NOAA efforts to protect endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale.”

For more information about regulations please contact Caleb Gilbert, the Northeast Division’s compliance liaison, at (978) 281-9338 or caleb.gilbert@noaa.gov.

Last updated by on December 18, 2020