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Guest Column: New lobster reporting requirements to begin

At its February meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Lobster Management Board approved a new addendum to the lobster and Jonah crab fishery management plans. The addendum has specific requirements for lobster harvesting states and makes specific recommendations to NOAA Fisheries for federal waters. NOAA Fisheries is evaluating these recommendations. This article summarizes the Commission’s addendum and recommendations. The addendum expands the reporting requirements in the lobster and Jonah crab fisheries. The Board approved this addendum because it believes that this additional information would improve the data on where and to what extent these fisheries take place and improve the amount and type of biological data collected in the offshore trap fishery. Given the expansion of the Jonah crab fishery and the movement of lobster trap effort offshore in recent years, the Board expects the addendum will address data gaps due to inconsistent reporting and data collection requirements by state and federal agencies. These expanded reporting requirements would apply across all jurisdictions, although for the reasons explained below, only NOAA Fisheries and the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) would need to change their harvester reporting regulations. The Board expects that the additional information would: Improve the quality of future lobster and Jonah crab stock assessments; Allow for more complete analysis of the effects of offshore energy projects and coral protection areas on the trap fisheries; Help evaluate interactions between fishing gear and large whales. The addendum also promotes the development of electronic reporting technologies to reduce the burden on agencies and fishermen and establishes a one-year electronic tracking pilot program to improve offshore law enforcement. New Data Collected The addendum asks for additional data from all state and federal permit holders, such as the number of deployed vertical lines, number of traps per trawl, number of traps hauled and set per trip, trip length, and soak time. This information is designed to help managers and scientists more accurately assess the amount of fishing effort. The addendum also requests information on the lobster management area and the ten-minute square location in which traps are hauled to significantly improve information on catch and effort location. Changes to Maine’s Reporting Requirements With the exception of Maine, all ASMFC states already require all their licensees to submit catch reports. While Maine’s current 10% harvester reporting requirement does a satisfactory job of assessing state-wide landings and trap hauls, the Board voted to require 100% harvester reporting for Maine to address the lack of information on where the fishery takes place and the type and amount of gear used. Maine would have five years to come online with mandatory trip-level reporting for its state lobster licensees, while continuing its current level of harvester reporting (10%). The five-year delay is intended to allow Maine DMR to work with other states and the Commission to assess the appropriate options for electronic reporting. The electronic option could reduce the time and costs of submitting and processing catch reports and would include the new data that the addendum requires. According to the ASMFC, electronic reporting will also make it easier for lobstermen because the system will store a vessel’s general information so the lobsterman won’t have to fill that part out each time he or she makes a report. Changes to NOAA Fisheries Reporting Requirements Similar to Maine’s requirements, the ASMFC recommends that NOAA Fisheries require all federal lobster permit holders to submit vessel trip reports (VTRs). Currently, a little more than half of federal lobster permit holders submit reports. They are only required to do so if they hold other permits, such as groundfish permits, that have VTR requirements. Those who hold only federal lobster permits, of which about 1,000 hail from Maine ports, would now have to report as well. The ASMFC believes that requiring both Maine licensees and NOAA Fisheries federal permit holders to report would eliminate the significant data gap we have in the Gulf of Maine component of the fishery. The ASMFC asked NOAA Fisheries to make the changes as soon as practicable and to develop a fixed-gear trip reporting form to take the place of the existing federal VTR because the federal VTR was not originally designed for use in fixed-gear fisheries such as lobster and Jonah crab. The ASMFC also recommended that NOAA Fisheries take action to expand lobster biological sampling activities in the offshore areas. To accomplish these tasks, NOAA Fisheries has begun to develop a proposed rule, as well as environmental, economic, and technical analyses that review the ASMFC’s recommendations and reasonable alternatives. NOAA Fisheries will request public comment on these recommendations and other alternatives before we implement anything in a final rule, if we implement anything, because we will also consider and evaluate a no-action alternative.

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