The 2017 North Atlantic right whale (NARW) unusual mortality event and an increase in humpback whale entanglements off the U.S. West Coast have driven significant interest in ropeless trap/pot fishing. Removing the vertical buoy lines used to mark traps on the sea floor and haul them up would dramatically reduce or eliminate entanglements, the leading cause of NARW mortality, while potentially allowing fishermen to harvest in areas that would otherwise need to be closed to protect whales. At the first annual Ropeless Consortium meeting, researchers, fishing industry representatives, manufacturers, conservationists, and regulators discussed existing and developing technological replacements for the marking and retrieval functions of buoy lines. Fishermen and NGO partners shared their experience demonstrating ropeless systems and provided feedback to improve the designs. U.S. and Canadian federal regulators discussed prospects to use ropeless fishing gear in areas closed to fishing with vertical lines, as well as other options to reduce entanglements, and a Massachusetts official shared additional regulatory considerations involved in ropeless fishing in state waters. Sustainable seafood experts discussed consumer market advantages and endangered, threatened, and protected species impacts in sustainability standards and certifications. Moving forward, there is
an immediate need to (1) work with industry partners to iteratively test and improve ropeless retrieval and marking systems to adapt them to the specific conditions of the relevant trap/pot fisheries, (2) create data sharing and communications protocols for ropeless gear location marking, and (3) develop regulatory procedures and enforcement capacity to allow legal ropeless gear use.