How does entanglement happen, exactly?


This illustration shows only the set up of a trawl of trap-style fishing gear, when in truth, marine mammals are entangled in a whole host of different things we place in the oceans. ©Graphic Services, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The majority of baleen whales feed by either opening their mouths after targeting a specific prey and taking in a large amount of fish plus sea water, then forcing the excess water out through their baleen, or by actively swimming with their mouths open while straining the water. The latter is the method of feeding used by the North Atlantic Right Whale.

Credit Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, BelleQuant, New England Aquarium and Duke University- Pratt School of Engineering

While entanglement is not limited to this species, they do tend to pick up a great deal of vertical line from the water column. With eyes placed on the sides of their heads, these whales have limited vision directly in front of them, similar to horses. Lastly, North Atlantic Right Whales have an unusual downward angled curve to the back of their lips, creating the perfect anchor space for any rope they may accidentally sweep up in their search for food.

Gray whale trapped in seine net. ©OneGreenPlanet.org

Other causes of entanglement:

Seine nets, monofilament nets and lines, and mooring lines are just a few of the underwater threats faced by dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles, sharks, and pinnipeds (seals, sea lions) as well as a whole host of whales, both large and small.

-Kim Sawicki December 2018

Entanglements, the book.

Tora Johnson’s exhaustive look at the issue of cetacean entanglement and fisheries management is just as accurate and relevant today as it was when she first began her research. While some of the players have changed, the issue remains largely unresolved. Her insights lend remarkable depth and understanding to anyone wishing to navigate the complexities of change within our vital coastal communities.

You can buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Entanglements-Intertwined-Fates-Whales-Fishermen/dp/0813027977

-Kim Sawicki February 2019

Critical Habitat Areas

North Atlantic Right Whale and Calf -NOAA, 2018.

North Atlantic right whales migrate between waters in southeastern US and the Northeast Atlantic.  The area off Georgia and northern Florida has been designated as the North Atlantic Right Whale Critical Habitat Area, as the whale calves in the area during winter months.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Institute, 2018) As a result, some stationary gears with vertical lines are restricted during these months, presenting real challenges to fishery managers as they try to protect the endangered animals while lessening economic impacts to the region’s fishing industry. Restricting the use of traditional pot gear during these calving months helps protect right whales, but it restricts the ability of fishermen to utilize potentially preferable waters for fishing Black Sea Bass. Developing and testing practical whale-safe gears would resolve the dilemma that faces all of those involved. One option is to develop “ropeless” pot fishing technologies which use no vertical lines during pot fishing.

-Kim Sawicki December 2018.


Steps toward an ecosystem-based fishery

The difference between the difficult and the impossible is that the impossible takes a little longer time. -Lady Aberdeen

Diamond Rocks, Kilkee. County Clare. Ireland

As consumer demand for sustainably produced food grows, industry, too, will need to be directly involved in the hands-on adaptation of techniques that ensure profitability as well as workforce compliance with policy.

During my recent study abroad in Ireland, I was witness to the pride and commitment the fishing industry had toward sustainable practices, as well as in maintaining their strong cultural identities. Understanding how that balance is achieved is critical to formulating a best-practices approach to implementation of new technologies in the United States, which has been struggling in its efforts to adopt new methods. With multilevel-multi-agency policies now being implemented that limit fisheries acceptable biological catch, innovative approaches to harvesting fish from the sea has become a necessity. Policy adaptation supporting advanced fishing technologies which are designed to reduce bycatch and entanglements can cripple industry if too restrictive and must be adopted in ways that are manageable and fair for success to be realized. Lobbyists, scientists, and industry in the US are now resorting to a variety of litigious measures to protect their stated interests, therefore, understanding how the EU cooperatively manages their fishing industry could prove highly beneficial. Policy measures that ensure solicitation from all stakeholders will be examined, and future suggestions for a novel framework for the US managed fisheries will be proposed. My study will focus on those policies and directives in the EU identified to have had the most positive impact on fishermen and their communities. This research is instrumental in assisting with efforts in the US when interacting with community fisheries to encourage a more fruitful and engaged cooperative attitude toward marine conservation.

-Kim Sawicki October 2018

Fishing without Rope?

Southern Right Whales. © Brian Skerry

Past research has indicated an undeniable benefit to the use of innovative ropeless gear within pot and trap fisheries with a removal of end lines and buoy lines. (Baumgartner et al., 2018.; Werner et al., 2015; Lent, 2017; FAO, 2018) These innovative approaches to end line management allow for the lowered risk of bycatch and entanglements of critically endangered species, most particularly that of the North Atlantic Right Whale.

It is imperative that a better understanding of the benefits and potential gains be attained if technology such as this is to be affordable and accepted for widespread use for pot/trap fisheries.  Due the innate differences of individual fisheries, it is well accepted that there will likely not exist one perfect ropeless technology that will address all of the individual needs of all fisheries. Many of the current designs have several decades of successful use in other applications, serving to catalyze and invigorate new manufacturers of gear, as well as thoughtful adaptations of existing devices.

As with any proposed change to fishing technique or technology, there has historically been a period of resistance, research, and adjustment. This period has been unusually long for ropeless gear, and thus far, much of the discourse between management and industry partners has been laden with untested hypothetical concerns regarding functionality and implementation.


Valid concerns provided by fishers with decades of harvesting experience have not been reasonably resolved with the limited testing that has been completed by manufacturers, environmental non-government organizations, or fisheries partners. To ensure the continued success of a co-management approach to fisheries practices, priority needs to be given to further this testing.

-Kim Sawicki January 2019

Spend some time with people, before you change their way of life.


“Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.” – Carl Gustav Jung

Civic engagement and communication are the most vital link to understanding those factors that drive successful policy change. Immersing oneself in local cultural activities can work to promote the position of all scientists working in marine conservation. Cerebral comprehension of issues that concern fishing communities when faced with change is not enough to inform decision makers, instead, having a “finger on the pulse” of that which makes a community strong is. Often, understanding comes from rapport that develops through identifying shared interests and commonalities.

Spending quality time with those lives you will affect through suggested policy changes ensures that you have the opportunity to not only study the economic impacts these policies can and do have on these communities, but also the cultural implications and experiences that are realized.

-Kim Sawicki December 2018

Forward Thinking: The FAO and the EC

Aquaculture in Ireland © Kim Sawicki

Sustainable fishery practices that are “ecosystem-based” have been identified by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a top priority for the next century. Industry, including both small and medium-scale operations (i.e., family-operated fisheries and artisanal fisheries) as well as commercial powerhouses, have been slower to acknowledge and adopt measures which are viewed as “sustainable” by FAO standards. These sustainable practices include measures that assist in the reduction of unintended bycatch and entanglements of marine mammals. With the European Union’s commitment to sustainably produced foods and their dedication to exploration and implementation of research and policy-making that is informed by science as well as industry, their successful measures serve as an excellent guide for US-based managed fisheries partners.

With an ecosystem-based approach to management of fisheries, the EC requested that “research…should address the social aspects of the seafood sector, which is essential for the cohesion of the social fabric in the European coastal areas”. This research has led to the development of policies and programs designed not only to produce a sustainable fisheries economy but to engage with coastal communities and artisanal fishermen in working groups that ensure all stakeholders have equal voice and engagement. Additionally, these EC-funded, EU-supported policies and voluntary stewardship collaborations and working groups serve as a viable model for overcoming many of the challenges we face in the US. These fisheries management programs should be comparatively examined not only on a policy level but through qualitative means, with a focus on cultural acceptance of initiatives through interviews and hands-on interactions with fisherman in their communities.

-Kim Sawicki November 2018