DMR releases right whale risk reduction plan

In October the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) concluded its assessment of the risk that Maine lobstermen present to North Atlantic right whales and released the state’s plan to reduce that risk.
In a letter to Maine’s commercial lobstermen, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said, “We have developed a plan which avoids those negative impacts [from the Take Reduction Team meeting agreement] and reduces risk where it occurs…. This draft plan will not make everyone happy, but it is substantially different from what was discussed in June [at meetings with lobstermen]. It provides legitimate protection to right whales in compliance with federal laws and, I believe, is an approach that can work for much of the industry.”
DMR is holding three meetings in early November to present the plan in more detail and solicit feedback from the industry on the plan. DMR will continue to accept feedback from the industry until the plan is submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in mid-November. Commissioner Keliher has noted that DMR’s draft plan will also request that zones have the flexibility to modify measures based on the needs of each region. This will mean more work will certainly happen within the zones if DMR is granted this type of conservation equivalency.
“The DMR plan is certainly an improvement from what we saw in June,” stated MLA executive director Patrice McCarron. “MLA is pleased that DMR has moved away from trap reductions, 40-trap trawls and trawling up for lobster gear fished in Maine’s exempt waters because right whales are extremely rare in this area. The MLA is reviewing the plan to understand the level of risk that it addresses, and we are getting feedback from our board and members on the operational, safety and economic feasibility of DMR’s proposal for various sectors of the fleet.”
“Governor Mills, along with all members of the Congressional delegation, have been very active on all fronts and I appreciate their support. I believe this plan complies with requirements under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and, most importantly, the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in a press release. “The ESA not only considers the history of entanglements but also the future risk of vertical lines. I believe Maine’s plan addresses the requirements of the ESA and recognizes the true risk in Maine waters, while avoiding further management actions if there is a jeopardy finding.”

The draft plan includes the following measures:
Status quo for trawling up in exempt waters (Shore to Exemption Line) — Data and industry observations make it clear – large whales rarely occur inside many of Maine’s bays, harbors or inlets.

  • No trawling up requirement will be included in exempt waters.

Trawling up requirements that will protect whales and fishermen — Reducing the number of vertical lines in the water reduces the risk of entanglement occurring in Maine waters.

  • From the exemption line to three miles – a minimum of three traps per trawl
  • From three to six miles from shore – a minimum of eight traps per trawl with two endlines, or 4 traps per trawl with one endline
  • From six miles to 12 miles from shore – a minimum of 16 traps per trawl
  • Twelve miles to the boundary of Lobster Management Area 1 – a minimum of 24 traps per trawl
  • The department is willing to have conversations, by zone, about trap maximums.

Weak points in vertical lines — Studies have shown that right whales can break free of line at or under 1,700 pounds of pressure.

  • Inside three miles – one weak point integrated into each vertical line
  • Outside three miles – two weak points, one in the middle of the line, and one ¼ way down from the buoy.

Maine-only gear marking — Location-specific marks will provide more targeted data for researchers trying to determine the origin of gear involved in an entanglement. It will also allow researchers to differentiate gear found on entangled whales from Maine gear.

  • Both state and federally permitted Maine vessels – red marks on vertical lines will be replaced by Maine-specific purple marks
  • A 36-inch purple mark in the top two fathom of the line
  • Outside exempt waters, harvesters will be required to add an additional green mark to vertical lines.

100% harvester reporting — Better data will help regulators develop targeted, effective regulations in the future.

  • 100% of licensed Maine lobster harvesters will be required to provide monthly reports, which will include information on fishing location and effort. The time of the implementation of this will depend on funding from other sources.

Vessel monitoring — Currently only those federally permitted lobster harvesters who also hold a federal permit for other species are required to use a vessel monitoring system.

  • Vessel tracking will be placed on all federally permitted lobster vessels.

No trap reductions or closures — DMR’s proposal includes no closures or reductions in traps.