Ropeless fishing gear opens 15,000 square nautical miles of previously closed fishing grounds for South Atlantic black sea bass fishermen

Since 2018, our team has been thrilled to work collaboratively with fishermen previously unable to fish during whale closures.

This February, NOAA granted them a permit to fish with these new gears in the area when North Atlantic right whales are migrating north with their new offspring!

Trap camera footage of Sub Sea Sonics and Longsoaker Fishing Systems gear Feb 2022

Ropeless fishing gear opens 15,000 square nautical miles of previously closed fishing grounds for South Atlantic black sea bass fishermen

Press Release, February 2022.

Sustainable Seas Technology awarded exempted fishing permit by NMFS to partner with fishermen to deploy and test whale-safe fishing gear.

Fearing entanglement threats to endangered North Atlantic right whales, pot fishing for black sea bass was banned seasonally in the South Atlantic in 2013. Affected fishermen from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida then began looking for cost-effective technology innovations to restart the economically valuable fishery. Nearly a decade later, NOAA Fisheries approved an exempted fishing permit for the fishery on Feb. 3, allowing fishermen to use whale-safe ropeless fishing gear.

“These fishermen are determined to get back fishing when whales are in the area,” says Kim Sawicki, founder and president of Sustainable Seas Technology, a nonprofit that focuses on both coastal community and whale conservation. “They aren’t afraid to try new technology to make a living.”

NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council imposed the seasonal closure of 15,000 square (nautical) miles of prime black sea bass habitat, citing the risk ropes and buoy setups posed to North Atlantic right whales, who calve off the coast of Georgia and Florida in winter months. This is also the time of year black sea bass are easiest to target in the inshore fishing grounds.

This small artisanal fishery was economically important to many Southeastern coastal communities as an off-season fishery. Shrimpers and crabbers realized in the early-1960s that they could use the same traps they used for crab to catch black sea bass in winter months. Looking to revive their black sea bass fishery, fishermen self-funded a pilot study of ropeless gear, partnering with Sustainable Seas Technology for the project. Ropeless, pop-up gear as it’s alternatively called, store the traditional ropes and buoys at the bottom of the ocean, next to the traps. The elimination of this line and buoy from the water column, except when needed for hauling, is intended to remove risk to whales and their calves when transiting through fishing grounds.

The Gear 2022
The gears that will be tested over the next two years

Over the next two years, fishermen from all four states will fishing under special rules that allows them access to return to their prime fishing grounds using a variety of established and emerging ropeless technologies. These include many of the same devices that are also being tested in Maine and California in fishing areas that overlap with whale habitats and migratory routes. Interested black sea bass pot fishermen are encouraged to contact Kim Sawicki at Sustainable Seas Technology for demonstrations. A learning exchange that will take place later this year in Townsend, Georgia, stay posted for details.

Contact: Kim Sawicki or Lucy McGinnis


About: Sustainable Seas Technology, 501(c)(3), works to test and promote innovative fishing gear technology that economically sustains small fishing communities while also protecting whales and other marine life from entanglement in fishing gear.

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