Whales off the California coast have been getting tangled up, injured and killed in commercial crab gear and other fishery traps for far too long.
That’s because the thousands of crab pots and other traps dropped in our ocean each year are connected to surface buoys by thick ropes. Migrating whales become entangled in those ropes, which cinch their flippers, mouths or tails as they drag these heavy traps, causing injuries or death by drowning.
It’s time for California’s fishing operations to stop using antiquated equipment and convert to innovative gear that doesn’t use these deadly ropes. State lawmakers should protect whales by requiring the use of ropeless traps.
Before 2014, confirmed whale entanglements averaged under 10 a year. But then 30 whale entanglements were reported to federal authorities in 2014, 62 in 2015, and 71 in 2016 — with commercial Dungeness crab gear being the main culprit when the gear could be identified.
From 2015 to 2020, more than 280 whales were reported entangled off the U.S. West Coast, mostly off California. And these are just the ones we know about. Scientists say we only see a small fraction of the whale entanglements that are occurring.
It’s not just whales suffering. Critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles have also been found tangled up in California fishing gear.
Luckily, many companies have developed new ropeless traps, also known as “pop-up” or “on-demand” gear, that don’t leave a static line in the water for days on end. When fishers come to retrieve these innovative traps, they rise to the surface using either a lift bag or stowed rope and buoy, released by remote control.
These new traps are already being used commercially in an Australian fishery and being tested in Canada and off the East Coast, where ropes have been entangling critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. This ropeless gear is also being tested off California.
Manufacturers developed the gear with the input of fishers, and the underlying technology has been used for ocean activities for decades. Fishermen report that the gear works, especially in fisheries where it’s been more extensively tested.
In response to a lawsuit that we at the Center for Biological Diversity filed in 2017 after state officials and crabbers failed to take meaningful action to reduce entanglements, the state recently adopted a new regulatory system to reduce entanglements in commercial Dungeness crab gear.
But California’s new rules are complex and rely primarily on fishery closures. And they don’t do nearly enough to promote conversion to ropeless gear — the only way to truly eliminate the entanglement threat while allowing fishing to continue.
That’s why we had joined Social Compassion in Legislation in sponsoring Assembly Bill 534, which was introduced by Rob Bonta before he became state attorney general. The bill was pulled because he left the Assembly, but other legislators should take up the cause.
The bill would set a 2025 deadline for the conversion to ropeless gear. Such gear is more expensive right now. But that’s always true of new technological solutions — until they catch on, supply increases and prices come down.
And the transition to ropeless gear means the season won’t …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment
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