ELLSWORTH — Over the past decade or so, Maine lobstermen have dealt with a number of restrictions on how they fish imposed in the name of protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales from entanglement in fishing gear.
Nearly everywhere but up inside Maine’s many bays, fisheries regulators have forced lobstermen to use sinking rather than floating rope for the groundlines that connect traps on the sea bottom, to limit the number of traps set on a trawl to reduce the number of vertical buoy lines in the water and to install “weak links” in those vertical lines so an entangled whale can break loose.
All those mandates, which arose out of discussions at NOAA’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT), were hard-fought, expensive and largely unpopular.
A report issued last week by a study group advising the American Lobster Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the interstate group that manages the lobster fishery outside state waters, suggests coming restrictions from AWLTRT and NOAA could pose a risk “to the lobster fishery and its culture.”
To reduce that risk, the working group recommended, among other steps, that ASMFC could use “trap limits, gear configurations … and seasonal closures” to effect reductions of up to 40 percent in the number of vertical lines in the water.
Also recommended was the requirement for highly accurate, electronic real time vessel monitoring and tracking units that could “not only track movement but also identify where gear is hauled or how many traps are fished,” on all boats lobstering outside the three-mile limit.
Also recommended is accelerated implementation of landings reporting by 100 percent of harvesters, whether they fish in state or federal waters. Currently, Maine requires reporting of 10 percent of its licensed harvesters chosen at random each year.