MLA gear report completed

First published in the MLA Newsletter, September, 2011

For the past eighteen months, Maine Lobstermen’s Association staff have been interviewing lobstermen along the coast about lobster gear. This first-of-its-kind project was funded by the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction, based at the New England Aquarium. The project’s final report, Documenting the Temporal and Spatial Gear and Vessel Configuration of the Gulf of Maine Coast Lobster Fishery, will be released in September.

MLA staff met with lobstermen up and down the coast to document how, where and when they fish in an effort to add real data to future regulatory discussions. MLA photo.

The MLA has been a pioneer in collaborative research efforts with scientists, starting with the industry-based V-notch survey in the 1980’s. Lobstermen have an excellent record of resource stewardship and have long advocated the need for scientists and managers to be informed of what really happens on the water.

Lobstermen are frustrated that many federal regulations applied to them lack common sense. “We want to break down the barrier of us getting bad regulations because no one knows how we fish,” explained Patrice McCarron, MLA executive director. “This is one way to level the playing field.”

The report gives detailed descriptions of typical gear configurations found in the inshore and offshore lobster fishery by season and location for Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Data collection included a series of small group meetings with lobstermen throughout the Gulf of Maine at which lobstermen provided sketches of how they typically configure their gear. These sketches served as the basis of the graphics presented in the report.

Not surprisingly, the comprehensive interviews with fishermen in harbors large and small proved that gear configuration and deployment vary according to geographic region. “Everyone knows that the bottom off Cutler or Machias is very different than that off Kittery,” said Heather Tetreault, MLA Whale Projects Coordinator. “This documents that difference.” The report also shows the seasonal migration of lobstermen to deeper offshore areas in the late fall through spring, to inshore waters during the warmer months, and gear rigging methods designed to meet local conditions such as tides or boat traffic.

The purpose of providing such detailed information is to make sure that when the debate over new regulations to further protect endangered North Atlantic right whales takes place, all parties are well informed about how lobstermen in the Gulf of Maine actually fish. Through such efforts lobstermen can influence policy making well before any regulations are cast in stone. “It’s important that everyone understand the reality of lobster fishing in Maine, not make decisions based on what they think is happening out there,” McCarron emphasized.

Tim Werner, who directs the marine conservation engineering program at the New England Aquarium, a member of the Bycatch Consortium, sees efforts such as the MLA report as part of a new relationship between regulators and fishermen. Werner said in an August 23 article in the New York Times that fishing regulation in the United States was too often a matter of court fights in which fishermen are often portrayed as the bad guys. “That’s not the approach we take,” Werner said. “We are trying to be proactive, to recognize that fishermen are not the villains in this play, but really a critical part of the solution.” To obtain a copy of the MLA gear report, contact Heather Tetreault at 967-4555 or at heather@mainelobstermen.org.