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Electronic tracking system considered for lobstermen in federal waters



BAR HARBOR — The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering requiring electronic tracking for the lobstermen who fish in federal waters.

The commission’s American Lobster Management Board initiated a draft addendum last week with the goal of collecting spatial and effort data from lobster and Jonah crab fishermen.

“In my opinion, this is the single most important thing the American Lobster Board can do to ensure the viability of the American lobster fishery,” said Dan McKiernan, the board’s chairman. “Through the proposed action, the board seeks to significantly improve our understanding of stock status, identify areas where lobster fishing effort might present a risk to endangered North Atlantic right whales and provide important information to help reduce spatial conflicts with other ocean uses, such as wind energy development and aquaculture.”

The management board has expressed interest in implementing these types of requirements over the last few years and has supported efforts to look into the systems and technology that would be needed to collect the data.

In May, the board created a working group that had representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state and federal law enforcement and members of the board to study electronic tracking. The working group recommended that data be reported at a minimum rate of one ping per minute for at least 90 percent of the fishing trip in order to tell the difference between when the fishermen are lobstering and when they are in transit. It would also be able to calculate the number of traps per trawl.  Cellular tracking devices are the preferred technology for the tracking.

The lobster fishery is facing a number of challenges, including a warming ocean, potential conflicts with right whales and lower lobster reproduction, making these types of tracking in the offshore fishery useful. This data could help improve stock assessments and vessel tracking data could better help assess the location of vertical lines in the fishery, which are a risk for migrating right whales, the board noted.

It could also help record exactly how much space the U.S. lobster fishery covers, as officials look at the expanded use of aquaculture, protected marine areas and offshore wind energy. The working group also said that enforcement in the offshore lobster fishery needs to be improved and these tracking requirements could make that easier.

The draft addendum will propose specifications for tracking devices to ensure the collected data meets these types of needs. Specifications could include data reporting rates, preferred technologies and minimum standards for tracking devices.

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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