Cape Fishermen Certified as Whale Disentanglement Responders

Humpback Whale/NOAA
Humpback Whale/NOAA

The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance brought together dozens of fishermen for a training last weekend to become Level 2 first responders to whale entanglements. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) staff certified the fishermen as part of its Disentanglement Network.

The commercial fishermen who bring fresh, day-boat seafood to local markets are versatile, industrious and take pride in their role as ocean stewards. They have adapted to fishing closures and made gear modifications to help whale populations rebound. It looks like their efforts are paying off. The 2011 NOAA stock assessment indicated that North Atlantic Right and Humpback whale populations are showing consistent positive growth.


Yet, fishermen recognize that as whale populations continue to increase, whale entanglements will occasionally occur, and they want to be a part of the solution. They are committed to helping whales by being trained as first responders. “I’m a problem solver, that’s just how I am,” says lobsterman Kurt Martin from Orleans, Massachusetts. “Being a first responder allows me to play a critical role in getting entangled whales the help they need fast. We are on the water, day in and day out, and can always be on the lookout for whales in trouble. That’s essential.”

“This is about finding solutions that work and ways to coexist,” says monkfish fisherman Jim Nash of Chatham, Massachusetts. “We need healthy whale populations and profitable fisheries, so it is a win-win for us fishermen to help whales in the waters where we fish.”

Entanglement in fishing gear does occur, yet growth trends seem to indicate that whale populations are responding positively to changes fishermen have made to date as well as other conservation efforts. Using their extensive knowledge of the sea and these disentanglement trainings, many Cape and Islands fishermen are now certified to identify, assess and respond to entangled whales.

While some entanglement events will require additional resources and support from other agencies or entities with higher levels of training and expertise, trained local fishermen will play a crucial role in shared efforts to improve the health of our marine ecosystems.

Level 2 first responders are certified to report, stand by and assess entangled whales they encounter.

They are expected to:

  • Rapidly alert NOAA Fisheries Disentanglement Network of first hand and/or second hand knowledge of local entanglements
  • Stand by an entangled whale until backup arrives, depending on experience
  • Communicate with crew on the vessel that is directly standing by the entangled whale and offer to replace the stand by vessel until additional backup or the response team arrives (if needed and within experience)
  • Provide a thorough assessment of the nature of the entanglement and the species, condition and behavior of the whale
  • Provide local knowledge, transportation and assistance to Primary First Responders, as needed, on a voluntary basis
  • Be on call, as available, to assist in planned disentanglement operations on telemetry-tagged whales