ELLSWORTH — New rules for fishing gear intended to protect whales, set to go into effect June 1, include adding special marks to buoy lines on gear set outside a Maine exemption line.
The rules are part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction program. They were announced in the summer of 2014 to give fishermen plenty of time to make adjustments.
Most of Maine state waters are inside the exemption line designated in the rule. But any lobster gear set outside that line must have vertical lines marked at the top, middle and bottom with 12-inch red marks.
“We do not dictate how they do it,” said John Higgins, equipment specialist for NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office. “Fishermen just want to be careful that whatever they do is going to stay on, to show that they’re in compliance.”
The office recently published a supplement to the Take Reduction Plan, available on the Department of Marine Resources website, with maps of exempted areas and detailed information about weak link and gear marking requirements. Options for marking buoy lines include colored twine, paint and plastic electrical tape.
“Electrical tape stays on way better than you would ever think,” Higgins said.
The Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team charged with creating and adapting the plan includes representatives from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the DMR as well as trap fishermen from the New England states, fisheries scientists and members of several conservation organizations. The team met in January in Providence, R.I., to consider amendments to the plan. Most of those changes do not affect Maine fishermen, officials said.
The additional gear marking requirements were adopted at the team’s January meeting as a compromise.
“The conservation groups attending the meeting made a strong push to adopt seasonal fishing closures on Jeffrey’s Ledge and Jordan Basin as part of the whale plan,” the MLA reported in its February newsletter. “A compromise was reached which will require anyone lobstering in those proposed closure areas to specially mark their end lines.”
June 1 also marks the start date for new minimum lobster trap trawl limits in Maine waters established under the whale take reduction plan.
Landward of the exemption line, fishermen will still be allowed to fish single traps.
In the few areas along the coast where the exemption line runs inside the three-mile limit of state waters, no single traps are allowed and fishermen must fish at least two-trap trawls.
Between three and six miles offshore, the minimum trawl size is three traps (triples).
Between six and 12 miles offshore, the minimum trawl size is five traps on Lobster Management Zones A, B and C, and 10 in Zones D-G, from Penobscot Bay to the New Hampshire border.
The plan contains a few small exceptions to the triples requirement to account for “pockets” between areas of state waters outside the exemption line. The rule also establishes a quarter-mile buffer zone around the occupied offshore islands of Monhegan, Matinicus and Ragged Island (Criehaven) in which singles can still be fished.