South Atlantic Council opens door to ‘ropeless’ fishing gear
The development of custom-made or “ropeless” fishing gear could allow more anglers to continue working black sea bass fisheries from the Carolinas to Florida, even with seasonal closures to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales from gear entanglement.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has begun moving toward making pop-up fish bowl gear permitted at all times, after three years of testing under a trial fishing permit from the council.
In 2017, the fishery was mandated to have two seasonal closures from December to March and from November to April to protect migrating right whales. Adapting the fishery to use bespoke gear – without vertical lines, and buoys that can be called upon by a signal from anglers to pop out to retrieve – has been tested under the Council’s EFP programme.
That permit expires in April 2025. During a Sept. 14 meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, the council agreed to begin a process to make custom-made equipment permitted during seasonal closures, said Jeb Brogan, campaign director for the longtime environmental group Oceana. Adopting ropeless equipment.
“They want to get this done as quickly as possible so there’s no time lag between the EFP and allowing this… 2025 is the timeline they’re looking at,” said Brogan, who spoke in favor of the proposal in Charleston.
Results of custom-made equipment testing in Southeastern waters were presented at a workshop held Aug. 22-23, hosted by Brian Fleutsch of George Marine Extension University and the Georgia Sea Grant, and Scott Baker of the North Carolina Sea Grant.
Although their population is now estimated at only 340 animals, North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered marine mammals. Female right whales head to southeastern US waters to deliver their calves, and with intense legal and regulatory pressure to reduce the risk of entanglement in fishing gear, the South Atlantic Council in 2017 introduced seasonal winter and spring closures to reduce the risk to black sea bass. Fisheries.
Research on custom-made gear has been ongoing since 2020 under a test fishing permit from the council, allowing custom-made gear to be tested outside of closures by a limited number of anglers off Georgia and North Carolina.
The successful results led the Council to issue a second EFP to allow on-demand equipment testing within closure areas, with the participation of anglers working with several species of fish. Equipment in the water from Sneads Ferry, NC, south to Ormond Beach, FL. Continuing this research requires new action by the council, according to a summary report from the August workshop.
“Custom-made gear has many benefits for fishermen. It allows fishermen to access currently closed areas at times when fish are more readily available near shore and market prices are generally higher,” the report notes. “As a result, it is more economically viable.” Because the profit is greater and the direct costs are lower (fuel), in addition to it being safer because fishing is closer to the shore.
“Making on-demand equipment a reality consists of two parts: making on-demand equipment permitted equipment under SAFMC regulations, and allowing this equipment to be used in closed areas,” according to the report. “This will not remove the closures, but will only allow anglers who wish to fish in the closure areas to do so if they are using bespoke gear. Anglers who wish to use conventional gear will still be able to do so outside of the closure periods.
The workshop report includes an estimate that outfitting the 32 black sea bass boats permitted in the area with the new equipment could cost nearly $500,000 with the potential for financial assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Whale migration closures impact the black sea bass fishery within 90-foot depths during the winter months, effectively closing 15,000 square miles of prime fishing grounds. Kim Sawicki, Founder and President of Sustainable Marine Technology, Talking to National Hunter in 2022 about how testing custom tackle gear in Southeastern waters can show anglers and designers how to make systems work better.
“What we learn from our work here could benefit other fisheries facing entanglement issues,” said Sawicki, who also tests ropeless gear with crab fishermen and spiny lobster fishermen in California, and Maine lobster fishermen in the Northeast. “But every fishery is different, and what works for one may not work for another.”
Brogan said it is clear the concept has broad acceptance among fishermen and the South Atlantic Council.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about this,” Brogan said. “We see this, in many ways, as a model for other areas.”
If fishermen and fisheries agencies in the southeast are successful in providing custom-made gear, their experience could help shape its use in other regions, he said. “Hearing from managers who have done this will make it easier for the next (fisheries management) board,” he said. , and the next after that.”