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Eye on Earth: Ropeless traps could be safer way to catch lobsters

Eye on Earth: Ropeless traps could be safer way to catch lobsters
Eye on Earth: Ropeless traps could be safer way to catch lobsters 03:30

WALTHAM - Lobsters are a way of life in New England, but marine conservationists say the delicacy comes at a cost. Lobster trap lines entangle, injure and even kill North Atlantic Right Whales.

Cormac Hondros-McCarthy of Lift Labs is trying to change that. His startup is creating a ropeless lobster trap. Traditional lobster trap fishing uses vertical ropes, which connect gear on the seafloor to a buoy on the surface. Unfortunately, those pose a serious risk to whales.

"Less than 340 are remaining," explained Hondros-McCarthy. "Under 100 breeding females, over 80 percent of the population has entanglement scars."

The Lift Labs system could end such entanglements. All of this important work is being done at the 3D Experience Lab at Dassaults Systemes in Waltham, an incubator for young talent and startups.

The technology being used is old school acoustics with modern day applications.

"The first step is the fisherman will look at his app on his phone or tablet and select a pin on the map, which will then be linked to the specific system on the sea floor, so each one has its own serial number," explained Hondros-McCarthy.

An acoustic signal is sent from the boat to the lead trap. The trap sends a signal back confirming its whereabouts. A buoy then inflates and pulls up a sequence of traps to the surface. It's a potential lifesaver for whales and could also improve the workflow of lobstermen.

"The main difference is that they can send that signal when they're coming up to their gear and they're there and whether it takes one or two minutes to get there, it's already at the surface," said Hondros-McCarthy. He added it's also less likely to get lost in a storm or become ghost gear.

Data gathered from the system could also be used to predict which areas have the most lobsters.

"The temperature was warmer over here and the traps were more full," said Hondros-McCarthy. "Whereas these other traps, there might be something going on in that area."

And what may be the best results, the potential for entanglement areas to reopen.

"Using this type of gear allows them to fish in those closure areas," said Hondros-McCarthy.

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