First published in Landings, May 2015.
After five long years of drafting, public hearings and negotiations, the new whale rules go into effect on June 1. In Maine, these rules affect only lobster gear fished outside Maine’s exemption line.
Under the new whale rules, all buoy lines fished outside Maine’s exemption line must be marked with three twelve inch red marks; one near the top, one near the middle and one near the bottom of the line. The previous rule had only required buoy lines to have one four inch red mark midway down the buoy line.
The other major component of the new whale rules is the minimum trawl length requirements. The trawling up requirements begin at the exemption line. A minimum of two traps per trawl must be fished in the area between the exemption line and the 3 mile line; a minimum of three traps per trawl must be fished from the 3-mile line to the 6-mile line. For zones A, B and C, a minimum of 5 traps per trawl must be fished from the 6-mile line to the 12-mile line; and zones D, E, F and G are required to fish a minimum of 10 traps per trawl from 6 to 12 miles. For all zones, a minimum of 15 traps per trawl must be set outside of 12 miles; this bumps up to 20 traps per trawl in Zones G and G from Nov 1 until the end of February.
The rules allow for single traps to be fished in a ¼ buffer area around the Pen Bay Islands (Monhegan, Matinicus, Metinic, Small and Large Green, Seal Wooden Ball and Criehaven) and the Isles of Shoals.
For most lobstermen, the biggest challenge in complying with the rules is the new rope marking requirement. The rule requires that the color mark be permanent on or along the rope, that it be clearly visible when hauled, and that each buoy line have three twelve inch marks located at the top, middle and bottom of the line.
Lobstermen have a variety of options to choose from to mark their rope. Though, there are a few methods that have proved more popular with Maine lobstermen. Weaving red twine or a long red wire tie around and through the rope strands is a common marking method. Other lobstermen wrap the rope with red duct or electrical tape, or dip or spray paint the rope with red paint, to mark their rope. It is important for the rope to be dry if painting the rope. More recently, lobstermen have been using red plastic heat shrink tubing to mark the rope.
One of the challenges in marking the rope is that many lobstermen shorten and lengthen rope throughout the season. To ensure that rope is in compliance, most lobstermen have marked their lengtheners or added additional twelve inch marks so that the rope will have the three mandatory twelve inch marks if it is shortened.
The other major challenge is in keeping the mark visible over the course of the season. Many lobstermen have found that the mark is easily hidden due to fouling of the rope, and that the mark will wear over the course of the season due to stress from the hauler.
Like most things in the lobster industry, there is no silver bullet. While some lobstermen claim that taping their rope is the best method, others swear by twine or paint. Trial and error seem to be the best way to find the right long-term solution.
There are a few caveats to the gear marking requirement. Due to the high co-occurrence of whales, single traps fished in the ¼ mile Isles of Shoals buffer area must be marked with two colors: red and orange. Additionally, NMFS has established two special Gear Marking Areas in a box around Jeffreys Ledge and Jordan Basin (see coordinates on page 11). Gear fished in the Jeffreys Gear Marking Area must be marked with red and green; gear fished in the Jordan Basin Gear Marking Area must be marked with red and purple. All of the new whale rules are effective June 1, 2015; however the additional gear marking requirements for Jeffreys Ledge and Jordan Basin are due to go into effect September 1, 2015. Maine DMR and Maine’s lobster industry associations have requested that the Jeffreys and Jordan gear marking requirements be delayed until June of 2016; the decision will be announced in the Final Rule.
For more information on gear marking, click here…Category: Management