NOAA Enforcement deploys remotely operated vehicles to Patrol the Seas

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement deploys ROVs to inspect offshore lobster gear.

NOAA Enforcement deploys remotely operated vehicles to Patrol the Seas
Photo: NOAA

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is increasing efforts to help ensure compliance with gear regulations in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American Lobster Trap/Pot Fishery. OLE is deploying remotely operated vehicles that will make inspecting offshore lobster gear more efficient.

This fishery operates primarily with traps that are set out by fishermen in fixed locations. The lines connecting traps to each other (groundlines) or to the surface buoy (vertical lines) can entangle marine mammals. Large whales, including endangered North Atlantic right whales, are particularly susceptible to entanglement because their habitat and feeding areas overlap with fisheries. The gear can cut into a whale’s body, cause serious injuries, and result in infections and death.

Entanglement in fishing gear is one of two primary threats to the North Atlantic right whale species’ survival (the other is vessel strikes). NOAA Fisheries implemented the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, which reduces injuries and deaths of large whales due to incidental entanglement in fishing gear. It includes requirements such as the use of sinking groundlines, surface gear markings, a minimum number of traps per trawl, and weak links. The take reduction team is in the process of updating these requirements to further reduce the risk of entanglement.

It is OLE’s responsibility to enforce these rules in order to protect species like the right whale. The use of remotely operated vehicles has made it possible for OLE to inspect gear without having to physically retrieve the gear. The ROVs are equipped with a video camera, lighting, sonar, and a manipulator arm. When deployed, the ROV can detect and record any gear or tag violation from the ocean surface down to the ocean floor.

James Landon, director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, said:

“We are excited about the usage of ROVs in our ongoing efforts to promote gear compliance in offshore lobster fisheries. The successful deployment of this technology improves our ability to effectively and safely do our jobs and should help to boost NOAA efforts to protect endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale.”