Image of a right whale tail fin

‘Ropeless’ Lobster Traps Protect Right Whales

The Students: Caylee Butler ’23, Slater Campbell ’23, Trevor Parks ’23, Charles Snow ’23

The Advisor: Professor William Michalson, Robotics Engineering

Students and Professor William Michalson on a boat Enemy Glory out of Providence, R.I., show off the Lobster ROL.

The Problem:

Lobster fishing is critical to New England, but the ropes that connect traps to buoys pose a threat to the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. With less than 350 of these whales left, conservationists are calling upon solutions to keep the species from going extinct. Lobstermen using traditional traps have been limited to where or when they can fish, but current ropeless traps can cost thousands of dollars.

The Solution:

The team developed the Lobster Resurfacing Oceanic Locator, or Lobster R.O.L., which keeps a buoy and coiled rope submerged with a trap until a designated time set by a user on a smartphone app. At the specific time, the buoy and rope release, allowing lobstermen to find and collect their traps. The students interviewed lobstermen and industry workers to develop an easy-to-use prototype that costs about $200, and they successfully tested it in a swimming pool and in Narragansett Bay.

The Future:

The students are working with WPI to patent the invention and plan to continue working on the project even after graduation.

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