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Comments on the vertical line risk reduction documents

Maine Lobstermen’s Association MLA urges NMFS to focus on development of a comprehensive, holistic approach to management. The goal should be to achieve effective protection for whales without inflicting unnecessary economic harm to individual businesses and communities. … At a minimum, NMFS must make a preliminary assessment of the efficacy of the sinking line rule and other existing management rules in order to inform how to best approach vertical line risk management. Among other things, it is critical to understand whether the sinking line rule, or the recently implemented ship strike rule, have had any effect on potential biological removal (PBR), the level of serious injury and mortality (SI & M), or on the scarification rates of whales. Given the hardship experienced by the lobster industry under the sinking line rule, it is important to demonstrate that their efforts have actually contributed to protecting whales. With respect to potential management measures, MLA preliminarily suggests the following: 1. Implement the most aggressive management measures in areas where data indicates whales and fishing gear are most likely to occur and risk is highest, such as in areas outside the 50-fathom curve or the 12-nautical mile line. 2. Do not implement additional measures in Maine state waters. 3. Allow for gear modifications to reduce risk of severe entanglement, such as modifying lobster gear by fishing a weaker rope on the top portion of the buoy line. 4. Allow for a second endline for trawls larger than five traps; two endlines must be allowed for trawls of six or more traps. 5. Allow a short amount of float rope off the lead trap for management scenarios requiring gear to be fished as trawls. 6. Explore options for both enhanced gear marking and reporting to improve the information available to guide the management process. a. NMFS should consult with the disentanglement teams to determine which section of the vertical line is most likely to be documented, and add a second mark to this area. This could be done through high resolution photographs and/or gear retrieved from a whale. b. NMFS must work closely with the disentanglement teams on techniques to carefully document the gear that the whale first encounters when it becomes entangled versus subsequent gear picked up after primary entanglement. 7. Remove the federal high flyer requirement for lobster gear fished outside of 12 miles in Area 1. 8. Eliminate the allowance of float rope at the surface between buoy and high flyer or between more than one buoy in the surface system. 9. Create incentives to minimize the amount of rope deployed throughout the gear system, to lighten the weight of gear and to reduce the breaking strength of rope, whenever possible. 10. Investigate the potential risk of trawling up gear by making the gear heavier, and strategies to make subcomponents of the gear safer if encountered.

Department of Marine Resources, Maine DMR encourages and supports a method of regulating areas of risk, depending on the level of co-occurrence in different areas within the Gulf of Maine. DMR does not support any vertical line risk reduction measures being implemented in areas of low to no co-occurrence. These areas include most of state waters, with some exceptions in Lobster Management zones A and G, as well as some significant areas in federal waters off Zone D. DMR does not support seasonal or year round closures as a risk reduction strategy. DMR supports an area based approach to reducing the risk of vertical lines to large whales in Maine. …During meetings across the State of Maine, DMR head broad support for a triples minimum in federal waters for most of the state, including all zones from 3-12 miles…. DMR does not support the use of only one vertical line on trawls greater than five. … DMR heard broad support for changes to the gear marking strategy from industry members coast-wide. There was agreement within the industry to get at least a unique marking color for the State of Maine, separate from nearby critical habitats in Massachusetts and other areas. … Another challenge that Maine faces is the diversity of our fishery. Trawling up thresholds, vessel size, safety and fishing efficiency must be considered. Management options must be operationally feasible and not impose an undue economic burden on fishermen.

Cape Cod Hook Fishermen’s Association … it does not appear that the most recent data regarding the status of right, humpback and minke whale populations is being employed or is even being identified as a crucial data need. Furthermore, there has been no obvious effort to quantify the impact of several recent management actions in key commercial fisheries which, while not targeted at reducing whale interactions, have almost certainly resulted in fewer vertical lines in the water… We and other industry groups are very concerned by the ongoing development of conservation measures intended to reduce the risk of serious injury and mortality of large whales due to entanglements without current and comprehensive information regarding the known impacts of this fishing gear on each whale population. … As currently proceeding, this effort lacks appropriate and data-driven targets and risks unnecessary negative impacts to commercial fishing operations. …Because of these existing shortcomings, we strongly support the ‘status quo’ management alternative.

Georges Bank Fixed Gear Sector The analysis provided in the document is based on severely outdated information. The “co-occurrence” model that is used to “predict” where fishing effort and whales overlap uses baseline data from 2008 in its analysis. A number of fisheries, namely the Northeast Multispecies Fishery, have undergone significant revisions since that time and are operating much differently today. It is outright false to assume that fishing effort in 2008 in any way attempts to represent fishing effort in 2011. … Finally, as it is, there is no direct correlation that can be made between a reduction in vertical lines and the resulting reduction in whale entanglements. The National Marine Fisheries Service is “guessing” at what the results of this plan will be. … Furthermore, any level of “serious injury and mortality” (SI&M) includes incidents from Canadian waters. Therefore, U.S. fishermen are paying the price for injuries that occur outside of our jurisdiction. … Knowingly making decisions using outdated information and guesswork is irresponsible and jeopardizes this plan and any fishery using vertical lines….

The Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and Defenders of Wildlife The scoping document fails to provide a target for risk reduction, either in absolute terms or on an area-by-area or fishery-by-fishery basis. This prevents understanding how much or what type of restriction is appropriate or how to judge success of a take reduction plan… We favor managing in large seasonal and temporal areas (e.g., in the northeast, in LMA 1 for much of the year rather than smaller sub-area blocks)… We believe that management measures should be directed primarily toward reducing mortality and serious injury of right whales with the assumption that humpbacks (and other species) will receive an ancillary benefit from those measures, particularly in areas of temporal and spatial overlap…. But if we take the co-occurrence scores at face value, it is apparent that there is greater risk in the Northeast than the mid-Atlantic or Southeast. For that reason, it appears that the NMFS should impose the most restrictive management in the Northeast… Further, NMFS cannot assume it should exempt the same northeastern waters from vertical line risk-reduction simply because NMFS exempted those areas in its groundline risk reduction rule. Groundlines pose a greater risk to whales diving to the bottom of the water column to forage or to feed with their mouths open, something that whales may not be doing in nearshore waters of Maine. However, any whale transiting a field of vertical lines and surface buoy systems faces risk regardless of its dive profile…. One option is to identify areas where line-free fishing may be appropriate (i.e., no vertical lines and/or no groundline) and allow only line-free fishing to occur. This may be done via grappling for gear or using “pop up buoys” to retrieve the gear… is reducing the amount of gear that can be used and the seasons in which it is fished. Research examining the catch of lobsters in Maine and Canada concluded that there is far more effort in the U.S. than is needed to obtain the same level of catch and that seasonal closures and trap reductions could provide substantial benefit to endangered whales while having little economic impact on fishermen…. NMFS is in the process of examining all of these comments and will convene the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team the week of January 9, 2012, in Providence, RI to begin the process of forming management alternatives.

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