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Future Lobster Gauge Changes Explained

DMR Commissioner, Patrick Keliher. DMR photo.

By now you have probably heard that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Lobster Management Board voted to approve Addendum XXVII. I have heard a lot of misinformation regarding the outcome of the Addendum, so I am writing to outline what happened at the Board meeting.

The Addendum specifies that management measures in LMA1, including changes to gauge and escape vent sizes, will only be implemented if the Board observes a 35% decline in a trigger index which looks at data on recruit abundance (71-80 mm lobsters) in the trawl and ventless trap surveys. These measures are intended to allow more sublegal lobsters to reproduce before being harvested and increase spawning stock biomass.

I heard clearly at the zone meetings and at the Lobster Advisory Council (LAC) that change was not looked at positively, but neither was stock collapse. Most of those conversations really focused in on a higher trigger but certainly the idea of a 45% trigger and understanding that landings would likely drop to around 60 million pounds before a trigger was pulled was concerning, so the advice to me seemed to focus in on the mid-thirty range.

The Board was considering a range of triggers from 32% to 45%. I made an initial motion for a 38% trigger in the interest of finding a compromise, but it was clear that some states wanted either an immediate gauge change or a low trigger, so ultimately the Board narrowed in on a compromise and went with 35% trigger.

I want to emphasize that a gauge size change won’t happen this year. The ASMFC Lobster Management Board will review the data each October, and if a 35% decline is observed, the change would not take place until June of the following year.

Also, if the trigger is tripped, the changes won’t happen all at once. A minimum gauge size increase of 1/16th of an inch will be triggered in LMA1 in the year after a 35% decline is reported. The minimum gauge size for LMA1 will increase again by 1/16th of an inch in the 3rd year. The Board did vote to push back any changes to the escape vent sizes in LMA1 until year 4 based on public comments received from fishermen.

The Board also took critical action to bring other LMAs up to the conservation standards of Maine fishermen. The Board voted to prohibit the upfront issuance of replacement trap tags to harvesters in LMA 1 and 3 unless trap losses are documented. This is a practice which Maine has implemented for some time and now other jurisdictions will meet Maine’s standard.

The Board also established a maximum gauge size in Outer Cape Cod (OCC) state waters, finally closing a loophole which allowed oversized lobsters to be imported from Canada. In addition, the Board established a more conservative v-notch definition in OCC state waters of 1/8” (previously ¼”), creating a consistent v-notch definition between LMA3 and OCC. LMA1 maintains a zero-tolerance v-notch definition.

Finally, I made a motion that the Board requests the ASMFC Interstate Fisheries Management Policy Board approve the creation of a subcommittee to engage Canada in issues related to importation of lobsters between the two countries. These conversations will be critically important to ensure equity for our harvesters and to support continued strong working relations between US lobster processors and Canada. While I recognize that it’s an especially tough time to think about future changes in the fishery, this change to the Fishery Management Plan is necessary if we want to ensure the long-term resilience of this important fishery.

To summarize, every October the ASMFC Lobster Management Board (Board) will review trawl and ventless trap survey results to see if the 35% decline in the recruit abundance has occurred. We are currently at a 23% decline in abundance, and at this point we can’t predict when the 35% decline will be reached. If a 35% decline is not observed during the fall board meeting, no action will be considered until the next year’s fall meeting.

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