The Problem To Solve

Photo Credit: NOAA

North Atlantic Right Whales (NARW) are facing extinction largely because they get entangled in fishing gear, including lobster trap lines. These lines, which connect a buoy at the surface to traps hundreds of feet down on the seafloor, get tangled and dragged by whales as they swim by. The NARW population has less than 400 members remaining worldwide, 4.3 of whom die annually on average, and an estimated 83% of whom have experienced entanglement. Entanglement not only kills whales, but also renders female survivors less likely to reproduce; calving rates have dropped by 40% since 2010, and there is concern the species may not recover.

There is clear evidence that traditional trap fishing has a significant impact on the NARW population: 85% of entanglements over the last 30 years have been due to traps and nets. The LobsterLift team is based on the New England coastline, which is one of the NARW's primary habitats, as well as a lobster fishing mecca. If the species is to avoid extinction, the industry urgently needs a solution that fishers, regulators, and conservationists can agree on. More broadly, marine debris entanglements affect more than 200 species worldwide, with the majority of pinniped and cetacean entanglements resulting from encounters with actively fished gear, like lobster traps. A solution to the particular problem of the NARW has the potential to benefit the industry as a whole.

Although the issue is most prominent on the east coast of the United States, this is a global issue.