ELLSWORTH — All lobster and Jonah crab fishermen in federal waters will soon need electronic tracking devices on their vessels while fishing there.
On March 31, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) approved addendums to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Lobster and the Jonah Crab, to take effect in 2023.
First, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries must implement the new requirement through the federal rulemaking process.
The new requirement, in Addendum XXIX to the American Lobster Management Plan and Addendum IV to the Jonah Crab Management Plan, is aimed at collecting high-resolution, spatial and temporal data to help manage the fisheries, by tracking the location of vessels minute by minute for up to 90 percent of the vessel’s time in the water.
The data collected will better inform the ASFMC on stock assessment limitations and protected species interactions, including the North Atlantic right whale, than at present.
“With a better understanding of the spatial footprint of the U.S. lobster and Jonah crab fisheries, managers will be better positioned to minimize and mitigate the impacts of other ocean uses such as aquaculture, marine protected areas and offshore energy development on the fisheries,” the ASMFC noted in a press release on the new requirement.
But commercial lobstermen and organizations representing them are not pleased with the new requirement and noted that they will bear the expense of buying and installing the tracking devices.
“It’s incredible that ASMFC is expecting fishermen to shoulder the financial burden of yet another unfunded mandate for newly required equipment and additional cellular data plans — or more likely satellite data plans for the remotest of fishermen,” Travis Fifield of Stonington wrote to the ASMFC board, adding, “I have boats that sell at my wharf that may not be opposed to the trip recording, which is what this actually appears to be since it’s not in real time, but they will absolutely get hung up on spending more money on equipment they see as pointless and unnecessary.”
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) noted an earlier reporting requirement in Addendum XXVI set to begin in 2023: a 100 percent harvester trip reporting requirement.
“The MLA strongly urges the ASMFC to fully implement Addendum 26 and act on its three recommendations before putting additional operational burdens and costs on all LMA 1 federal permit holders,” Executive Director Patrice McCarron noted in public comments submitted prior to the vote to approve.
LMA 1, or Lobster Management Area 1, includes federal waters fished by Maine commercial lobstermen, and Maine Lobstering Union Local 207 also opposed the measure on similar grounds.
“Maine is transitioning to mandatory; why are you not even allowing the data to come in before we are [asked] for more information?” Virgina Olsen wrote on behalf of union members. “This is a violation of our privacy at best, and something to take away our fishing grounds at worst.”
Most but not all commercial fishermen affected along the Eastern Seaboard also opposed the new requirement, while environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Maine showed their support.
“TNC believes that timely and accurate catch information is a critical component of successful and sustainable fisheries management program,” Jocelyn Runnebaum, a marine scientist with TNC, wrote. “It provides scientists the data needed to develop accurate and reliable stock assessments, a critical aspect of sustainable fisheries management.”