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Lobster Zone Councils Consider the Future

The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) staff updated Maine’s seven lobster zone councils during meetings in January and February on an array of issues, particularly the lobster gauge changes mandated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the department’s expanded right whale monitoring activities.

Photo by N. Beaudoin.

In May last year the ASMFC Lobster Board passed Addendum 27 to the lobster fishery management plan, which created a “trigger” mechanism that, when reached, would require a gauge increase. The purpose of the Addendum is to improve the resiliency of the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank lobster population by allowing more lobsters to reproduce before harvest.

The trigger was set at a 35% decline in juvenile lobster abundance, as established by three lobster surveys (Maine/NH/Massachusetts spring and fall trawl survey indices; and model-based ventless trap survey index). In October, ASMFC scientists determined a 39% decline in the recruit indices from the reference period (2016-2018) which triggered a schedule of management changes.

For Lobster Management Area 1 (LMA1), that decline mandated a gauge increase by June 1, 2024. DMR Commissioner Keliher successfully proposed that ASFMC delay implementation of the increase until January 1, 2025. The delay will provide additional time to work with Canada on measures that support equity for Maine lobstermen and stock resiliency on both sides of the border. It will also allow gauge manufacturers the needed time to produce new gauges.

On January 1, 2025, the minimum gauge size for LMA1 will become 3-5/16 inches, a 1/16-inch increase. On January 1, 2027, the minimum size will increase another 1/16 of an inch to 3-3/8 inches. Then on January 1, 2028, escape vent sizes will increase (2 inches X 5-3/4 inches rectangular; 2-5/8 inches circular).

The ASMFC Lobster Board also has initiated Addendum 30 to the lobster management plan to clarify how the measures of Addendum 27 will apply to imports of lobster from Canada. The Mitchell Provision in the Magnuson-Stevens Act prohibits imports of whole live lobster smaller than the minimum possession size, currently 3-¼ inches. The proposed addendum would make clear that Addendum 27 shall comply with the Mitchell Provision, meaning the smallest minimum size for lobsters imported from another country would match the smallest minimum size in effect in the U.S.

Concerning the state’s right whale monitoring efforts, the DMR received funds through the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act to gather data on the occurrence of right whales in the Gulf of Maine. Because there was insufficient right whale monitoring in the Gulf and poor spatial data about where lobstermen fish, previous right whale and risk assessment models for the Gulf of Maine used by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had areas of high uncertainty.

Anita Murray, marine scientist in DMR’s Division of Marine Mammal Research, spoke about the department’s expanded passive acoustic monitoring activities. As of November 2023, 26 passive acoustic monitors were operating in Maine’s state and federal Gulf of Maine waters. The monitors are anchored to the bottom with no surface expression, floating approximately six meters off the seafloor; each records all sounds, including whale vocalizations, within about a six-mile radius. The acoustic data, downloaded every four months, will be combined with new at-sea visual surveys undertaken in March, July, and November this year and planned aerial surveys.

DMR’s extensive aerial surveys will begin this spring along the coast. The survey plane will fly at 1,000-foot altitude along survey tracks spaced four nautical miles apart. DMR’s goal is to fly all the survey tracks every month.

Murray noted that currently right whale survey results, sightings, and acoustic detections from different sources are publicly available on The site compiles data from 12 contributors on right whale movements along the Eastern seaboard and is updated in near real-time. The interactive map shows that right whales were definitively sighted in the western Gulf of Maine between January 1 and January 23.

DMR has also drawn on Consolidated Appropriations Act funds to set up an Innovative Gear Library for lobstermen. The Gear Library will allow lobstermen to try out different types of on-demand lobster gear, offer their comments, and collect data on the gear for researchers and gear manufacturers. It will include on-demand systems as well as other less-expensive technologies, such as electronic timed-released systems. Gear will be loaned to lobstermen, with enough gear to cover two trawls per lobsterman. Lobstermen will be compensated for up to eight days of testing each month at $300-$400 per day while fishing and $1,920-$2,400 per day when not fishing, depending on boat length. By testing the gear lobstermen can let both DMR and NMFS know what works and what does not work in different areas of the coast.

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