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Lobstermen say no to closures and gear marking

NMFS Preferred Alternative (5) for Maine lobstermen Area/ZoneMinimum Traps/TrawlSeasonal ClosureGear MarkingExempted State waters

none12 “ mark (6” blue and 6” red)*Non-exempted State waters

212” mark (red)* *Rope must be marked at least 3 times

  1. top (within 2’ of top of buoy line),

  2. mid way along the length of the buoy line, 3. bottom within 2’ of the bottom of the buoy line)Zones A to G (3 to 6 miles)

3Jeffrey’s Ledge (Oct 1 to Jan 31)Zones A to C (6 to 12 miles)

5Zones D to G (6 to 12 miles)

10Jeffrey’s Ledge(Oct 1 to Jan 31)Zones A to E (12+ miles)

15Jordan Basin(Nov 1 to Jan 31)Zones F and G (12+ miles)March 1 to Oct 31

15Jeffrey’s Ledge (Oct 1 to Jan 31)Zones F and G (12+ miles)Nov 1 to Feb 29

20Jeffrey’s Ledge(Oct 1 to Jan 31) NMFS estimates that the preferred alternative will remove more than 32% of vertical lines from the Northeast region, and will reduce the co-occurrence of whales and fishing gear by 42%. However, management alternatives which did not include closures yielded similar results of 31% reduction in vertical lines and nearly 38% reduction in co-occurrence. NMFS estimates that coastwide from Maine to Florida more than 1,400 vessels would be affected by trawling up scenarios, 184 by closures and more than 6,000 vessels by gear marking. The estimated annual compliance cost ranges from $3.5 to $6.5 million. NMFS stated that this plan does not attempt to achieve a risk reduction goal because there is not enough data to do that. Rather, NMFS has asked for options to reduce the entanglement risk, and they are looking for feedback from fishermen on what is reasonable to comply with. The agency asked fishermen to be specific on why alternatives will not work if speaking against them. Throughout the meetings, lobstermen expressed their frustration over the need to implement additional whale rules and over the lack of data about how and where whales get entangled. Lobstermen consistently stated the rarity of seeing right whales off the Maine coast. They also warned NMFS about the law of unintended consequences pointing out that existing regulations requiring weak links and sinking rope have caused increased in gear loss which could be contributing to entanglements. Commissioner Keliher of Maine DMR and Patrice McCarron of MLA went on the record at all four meetings in strong opposition to closures and gear marking changes and noting general agreement that lobstermen could work with the trawling up proposal. They urged the agency to use June 1 as the implementation date for any new whale rules. Most lobstermen attending the meetings echoed these comments. The strongest opposition from the industry by far was in response to the proposed closures. Lobstermen strongly opposed using closures as a management approach, noting that they show little benefit to whales based on NMFS’ own risk reduction figures. At the Portland meeting, lobstermen were concerned that the Jeffreys Closure combined with the proposed wind farm would combine to greatly limit the amount of fishing area available in that area of the coast and would result in a massive cluster of gear east of Jeffreys. Other lobstermen noted that the any closure would result in a wall of gear around the edges and would dramatically increase gear conflicts. Closures should be an option of last resort. Lobstermen at all four meetings opposed the proposal to mark gear inside exempted waters, and opposed changes to gear marking in non-exempt waters. Lobstermen noted that the proposed gear marking schemes would not work. They explained that they have one set of gear that is lengthened and fished across all depths ranging from shallow waters close to shore which is shifted out offshore into deep water. Complying with the proposed gear marking schemes would require lobstermen to purchase a second set of endlines which would be cost prohibitive. Others noted that any requirement to mark ropes three times with 12 inch marks would be extremely labor intensive. As marks wear off and foul over the season, it would be impossible to keep all ropes properly marked. Furthermore, gear marking does not provide any conservation benefit to whales. Lobstermen urged NMFS to keep the gear marking requirements that are currently in place. Lobstermen also opposed the Fall as an implementation date stating it would be impossible to change over gear during the peak of the fishery. Instead, lobstermen urged a winter or spring implementation date. The majority of lobstermen did not oppose the trawling up requirements included in the preferred alternative. NMFS clarified that none of the trawling up requirements would affect lobstermen in exempted state waters. There were, however, a few issues raised. At the Rockland meeting, several raised concern regarding the trawling up requirements for islands located outside the exemption line, stating that two traps per trawl would not be operationally feasible in the shallow rocky waters around these islands. They urged NFMS to look at setting a minimum depth of water before requiring trawls, noting that it is very dangerous when short warps get hung down. This issue was also raised at the Portland meeting by lobstermen who fish around Boon Island. There was also a concern raised at the Portland meeting regarding younger lobstermen fishing in small boats beyond 12 miles because these boats could not safely fish the required trawl minimums. They warned that if the current proposal moves forward, they would need to get bigger boats and more traps, forcing them to fish further offshore. The unintended consequence would be an increase in fishing effort and added expense for these vessels. At the Ellsworth meeting, Zone B lobstermen expressed concern over the placement of the 6 mile line. They noted that the trawl minimums proposed on the outside edges of Mount Desert Rock, particularly in the area round the beak, would be very dangerous and nearly impossible to fish 5 trap trawls due to hard bottom. They proposed that the 6 mile line be relocated outside the rock. Lobstermen at the Rockland meeting urged NMFS to make sure that the pocket waters follow the state waters rules to ensure that the trawling up requirements can be safely implemented and keep rules consistent with Maine’s enforcement of these waters. NMFS will solicit comments from fishermen along the entire Atlantic Coast through public meetings held during August. The agency will accept comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) until September 13 and on the Proposed Rule until September 16.

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