The National Marine Fisheries Service held a public forum on Tuesday, August 6, at the Ellsworth Public Library to hear feedback on proposed amendments to the rules regulating commercial fisheries meant to reduce whale entanglements.
Industry members ranging from the Maine Department of Marine Resources commissioner to fishermen themselves offered public comment.
There are several options on the table, all of which are meant to reduce the number of vertical lines (endlines going from buoy to the first trap) in the water. The NMFS gathered input from Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to cobble together different options for how to reduce the number of vertical lines.
The NMFS suggested “trawling up,” or requiring more traps per line, depending on how far from shore a fisherman is setting traps. The DMR and Maine Lobstermen’s Association both support a “trawling up” with a breakdown of a minimum of doubles in non-exempt state waters, triples in waters 3-6 miles, a minimum of five-trap trawls from 6-12 miles and at least 15 traps per trawl beyond the 12-mile mark.
Maine Lobstermen’s Association director Patrice McCarron said so long as the NMFS adopted a “six-mile” line (and it was carefully plotted to reflect the general change in ocean bottom from rocky to flat), trawling up might not be too problematic.
A few fishermen, including Downeast Lobstermen’s Association president, Zone C chairman and Stonington fisherman Hilton Turner, expressed concern that there are some fishermen who fish alone who will be put at risk fishing triples, as it requires stepping away from the ship’s wheel to take care of the third trap.
Environmentalists and some state officials in Massachusetts suggested seasonal closures, one around Cape Cod and two in Maine waters—a large area along Jeffrey’s Ledge in Zones G and F/G, and another closure in Jordan’s Basin, which is primarily in Lobster Management Area 3, with a small sliver in Zone C territory.
Representatives of the DMR, the MLA, the DELA and several fishermen all expressed misgivings about the Jeffrey’s Ledge closure, which would shut down a large portion of Zone G and Zone F/G from October 1 through January 31.
McCarron said there is no indication that closures reduce endlines, but rather just displace the gear to other locations.
“You’ll be taking the best waters,” said DELA treasurer and fisherman Mike Dassatt. “You’re looking at a major conflict of gear [by displaced lobstermen].”
Everyone who spoke also agreed that the slim sliver of closure for Jordan’s Basin that crosses into LMA 1/Zone C should not be included, as it is a very small area and would create problems for Zone C fishermen.
The other major change to regulation, and one that drew the most skepticism from those present, is changes to how rope is marked. Currently, lobstermen fishing in non-exempt state waters have to have one red marking along the mid-point, which can be achieved by painting, splicing in other rope or other means. The proposed changes will require three markings, one in the middle, and another at each end. Each of the markings need to be 12 inches, instead of the current six.
Within the state exempted waters, fishermen are not currently required to mark gear. Under the proposed rule, fishermen in exempted waters would need to mark blue and red, six inches each, three times on gear. Then, if they fish in non-exempt waters as well, would need to use rope marked three times with 12-inches of red, which would mean changing over rope or changing the markings.
DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher called the proposal “operationally unrealistic.”
The rule assumes “there’s unique gear” for fishing in exempt state waters and non-exempt state waters, said McCarron after the meeting. “But that’s not the case.”
Fisherman Jim Dow of Bass Harbor said he paints his lines on his gear, and wouldn’t be able to remove the markings or change them easily.
John Williams of Stonington said the rope often kinks or snags where it’s been spliced, and adding in more markings means more snags, not to mention the problem of the different markings.
The NMFS will take public comments on the proposed rules amendments until mid-September. A final rule will be published next summer. The NMFS wants rule changes to go into effect in fall of 2014.
Keliher and McCarron both stressed that it made more sense for any rule changes to be implemented June 1, 2015 rather than the currently scheduled fall of 2014.