2024 Northeast Experimental On-Demand Gear System Testing Underway
Watch for specially flagged vessels off Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The Northeast Fisheries Science Center Gear Research Team is collaborating with up to 30 commercial lobster vessels in 2024. We are testing on-demand (also called ropeless) fishing gear in state and federal waters that are closed to lobster and Jonah crab fishing that use static vertical lines. The experimental fishery will occur between February 1 and April 30. We conducted similar experiments in 2023.
The fixed gear involved in this research will not be visible at the surface since it has no surface buoys.
If You Tow Up an On-Demand Unit
If you accidentally tow up an on-demand unit, do not discard it. Hold onto the unit and reach out to the Gear Research Team.
Where Testing Will Occur
Participating vessels will fish trap trawls without any surface gear marks in the “potential on-demand testing areas.” These are the darker shaded areas outlined in black within the restricted areas shown on the chart.
Please note that testing will not occur in Cape Cod Bay from February 1 through May 15 (or later depending on whale presence).
The testing seasons within the potential on-demand testing areas as follows:
- South Island Restricted Area and the Massachusetts Restricted Area from February 1 to April 30 2024
- Great South Channel Restricted Area from April 1 to June 30, 2024
Experimental fishing with on-demand gear will also occur outside of the testing seasons within the same areas. This gear will be marked with standard surface gear on one end while testing ropeless gear on the other end.
State Waters Portion of the Massachusetts Restricted Area
Under a Letter of Authorization issued by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, up to seven vessels are authorized to use fully on-demand fishing gear within the Massachusetts state waters portion of the Massachusetts Restricted Area from February 1 through May 15 (or later depending on whale presence). This chart shows where testing may occur during this time period.
Please note that testing will not occur in Cape Cod Bay during the closure period.
Avoiding Gear Conflict
Our gear team and participating fishermen are particularly concerned about gear conflict this winter and spring in the potential on-demand testing area immediately west of the Great South Channel in former Groundfish Closed Area 1. On-demand gear in that area is set northwest to southeast in trawls approximately 1.5 nautical miles in length. The buoy marked end could be on either end.
Vessels conducting this research during the Restricted Area seasons will be flying this gold flag:
To visualize the gear positions and orientations of on-demand trawls, interested mariners can also download and subscribe to the EdgeTech Trap Tracker app. It is currently available for purchase for $24.99, plus a $14.99 subscription fee, on the Apple or Google Play app stores with any smartphone or tablet. The trap tracker shows gear within 5 nautical miles of a user's position.
Using the Results
Our short-term goal is to work with stakeholders to support deployment of on-demand gear systems in circumstances that minimize the potential for gear conflict while allowing fishing to continue. Ultimately, for on-demand fishing gear to meet conservation goals for marine mammals and to support fishing on a large scale, it must move beyond an experimental stage. We are committed to working with fishery management authorities to consider the regulatory changes needed to allow the use of on-demand fishing gear without an exempted fishing permit.
In July 2022, NOAA Fisheries issued a draft strategy, Ropeless Roadmap: A Strategy to Develop On-Demand Fishing (PDF, 20 p). Our draft strategy describes the current state of on-demand fishing and outlines a path for increasing adoption of this technology in commercial fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. It will guide how we approach the development of on-demand gear in the future.
Gear Research Team: email@example.com
Media inquiries: Teri Frady at: firstname.lastname@example.org