In the News: September 2019

Ropeless fishing tests frustrate snow crab fishermen
New Brunswick snow crab fishermen have been testing a ropeless trap system this season as one way to reduce the use of fishing rope, which has been blamed in deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales. “The main problem with the ropeless gear … is that it was given way too much credit for what it can, at this time, achieve for the snow crab fishery,” Robert Haché, director general of the Acadian Crabbers Association, said in an interview. Haché said the ropeless trap system they’ve tested had a lot of practical issues — and it would take years of work to adapt it to fishermen’s needs. “Basically, the testing of the ropeless trap showed us that the contraption was far from being adequate to be used on a commercial basis now. We’re looking at some contraptions that will need a lot more work.” The ropeless traps, developed by California-based Desert Star System, are already used by fishermen in New Zealand and Australia. 

P.E.I. company tests new bait with fishermen
Bait Masters Inc. is testing a new bait product in the fall crab and lobster fishery on Prince Edward Island. “The new bait is a mix of fish and other organic matters in a biodegradable casing,” said Wally MacPhee, co-owner with Mark Prevost of the company. “It reduces the amount of pelagic fish used in the bait process. We’re hoping to reduce it by 50% per piece so it would be a help with sustainability.” Mackerel and herring, the traditional bait used by the lobster fishery on P.E.I., have become increasingly more expensive and difficult for fishermen to find. “It’s kind of a secret formula. We’ll just keep it at that for now,” MacPhee said. Nine lobstermen tried the bait in the spring lobster fishery while an employee tracked the catches, comparing the alternative bait to the traditional fish. “We found out that it fishes well, fishermen seem to like it,” MacPhee said.

Eight Right Whales have Died in Canada thus far
Canadian conservationists are sounding an alarm over the survival of the North Atlantic right whale. In June, six right whales were killed, followed by two more in July. There were also three new entanglements sighted in Canada. This is another devastating blow to a population that is now estimated to be slightly more than 400 in total. The deaths are due to changes in the whale’s feeding patterns bringing them into Canadian waters.
Recent losses to the population include a 40-year-old female named Punctuation that scientists have been tracking since 1981. She gave birth to eight calves, two of which had calves of their own. Scientists determined she died as a result of being hit by a ship. Of the whales lost over the past two months, necropsies performed on seven found four died from trauma consistent with vessel collisions, and two died from entanglement in fishing gear.

Puiffins. Courtesy National Audubon Society.

Puffins thriving offshore
Maine puffins are having one of their most productive seasons in years on remote islands off the state’s coast. The birds are well on their way to setting a record for the number of breeding pairs, said National Audubon Society scientist Stephen Kress, who has studied the birds for years. Kress said nearly 750 pairs nested on Seal Island and Eastern Egg Rock in 2018, and this year’s number will likely be higher. The birds are thriving due to multiple factors, including an abundance of the type of fish they’re best suited to eat, such as young haddock and hake and herring. In some previous years, the birds have suffered because those fish were less available, replaced by fish that are more difficult for them to digest. The fish thrive in cold waters and the Gulf of Maine water temperatures have remained slightly cooler this year than last.

NMFS Proposes Control Rule for Lobster Fishery
NOAA Fisheries is seeking comments on a control date (a date that may be used to establish eligibility) of April 29, 2019 for the American lobster fishery, as the agency considers ways to reduce threats of entanglement by fixed-gear fisheries to North Atlantic right whales.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Lobster Management Board established a control date of April 29, 2019, and recommended that NOAA Fisheries do the same for federal waters. NMFS is notifying the public that the Agency may develop a future rulemaking to complement any actions taken by the Commission, and that future participation in the fishery may be based on participation as of April 29, 2019. All other changes would be completed through a separate, future rulemaking.
The Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is located at www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/american-lobster-fishery-control-date-lobster-conservation-management-areas?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery. Comments are due by September 23, 2019.

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