The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) published a proposed rule in mid-September to implement a unique and expanded gear marking program for Maine beginning in April 2020. The rule proposes to require all vertical lines be marked including gear fished in Maine’s exempt waters, changing Maine’s required red gear marks to purple, adding a 36” purple mark in the top two fathom of the line and requiring a second 6” green mark in the top two fathom of the buoy line for gear fished in Maine’s exempt waters. DMR held a public hearing on October 2 and accepted written comments until October 14. The public hearing drew approximately 20 people, with six people, including the MLA, offering feedback. The MLA also submitted the following written comments.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) strongly supports the Department of Marine Resources’ (DMR) proposed rulemaking to require unique and expanded gear marking for Maine lobstermen, however, we offer constructive feedback to simplify the requirements. The MLA has had representation on the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (TRT) since it was formed in 1997, and we have proactively represented our members on whale rules since then.
The MLA strongly supports unique gear marking by Maine lobstermen, as well as requiring marking of gear fished in Maine’s exempt waters. This approach is strongly aligned with MLA’s position on the pending federal whale rules that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has been too aggressive in setting a risk reduction target for Maine. Implementing an improved gear marking program for Maine lobster gear will go a long way in helping Maine to make our case that right whale interactions in Maine gear are rare.
Distinguishing Maine lobster gear from lobster gear fished in other states is extremely important in helping us to understand and address the risk our fishery poses to right whales. … Under the current gear marking program, Maine lobster gear shares the same gear marking as gear fished in Massachusetts and New Hampshire waters. Nearly half the right whale population feeds in Cape Cod Bay in the winter and a new habitat off Nantucket is regularly sighted with large numbers of feeding whales. Whales are rare along the coast of Maine, and it is important to our members that the state implement a Maine-specific gear marking program.
As part of this effort, Maine must require marking for gear fished in the state’s exempt waters. This will allow us to rule out this gear as a potential source of the 75% of entanglements that cannot be traced to a fishery and are categorized as unknown gear. In the absence of any gear marking in these waters, Maine will continue to be implicated as a potential source of these entanglements.
The MLA has received much feedback from our members on the DMR’s proposed gear marking rules. Our members stressed that the state should strive to keep the gear marking regulations as simple as possible to minimize the amount of labor and maintenance to mark gear and increase compliance.
The MLA offers the following specific comments on the proposal.
Unique color for Maine
- MLA supports unique marking of vertical lines for Maine to distinguish Maine gear from other fishing gear, and trap/pot gear fished from other states and fishing areas.
- MLA does not support keeping red; support purple or any other color that is not currently being used for gear marking.
- MLA supports maintaining three 12” marks located at the top, middle and bottom of the vertical line.
- In addition, the MLA supports requiring one 12” mark on each lengthener.
Marking gear in exempt waters
- MLA will only support gear marking in exempt waters through state-rulemaking. MLA is strongly opposed to the implementation of any measures – gear marking, trawling up, trap limits, etc. – in Maine’s exempt waters through the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (TRP).
- MLA supports distinguishing gear fished in Maine’s exempt waters from gear fished in non-exempt waters only if exempt waters remain exempt from the federal whale plan.
- MLA supports keeping gear marking in Maine’s exempt waters as simple as possible because these measures will impact the majority of Maine fishermen and gear.
- MLA does not support requiring a second mark at the top of the line in exempt waters. If gear fished in Maine’s exempt waters vs non-exempt gear is to be distinguished through use of a second mark, the MLA would recommend the second mark instead be required at the top of the line in non-exempt waters. This will affect fewer people.
- MLA recommends that the state consider the following gear marking requirement for Maine’s exempt waters:
- require a 12” purple mark at the top of the line, and then a 12” mark every 10 F for a maximum of three marks.
- Second mark for non-exempt waters
- MLA supports requiring a second 6” mark to be added to the top mark on the line for gear fished in Maine’s non-exempt waters
- Requiring an extra tracer on gear fished in non-exempt waters will impact fewer lobstermen and reduce the likelihood that gear with a tracer will be shifted outside of the exemption line in error.
- The extra gear mark should be easily removable, such as a wire tie. The mark could be removed when gear is shifted from non-exempt to exempt waters.
- The additional tracer should not be green or purple as these second marks are already required for gear fished on Jeffrey’s Ledge and Jordan’s Basin.
Adding a 36” mark in the top 2F of the line
- MLA opposes adding a 36” mark to the top 2F of the line. This mark is redundant with the existing top mark already required. MLA members are also concerned that it will be difficult to maintain a 36” mark within the top 2F of the line because this section of line is often cut off and retied.
- The MLA recommends that the DMR instead require the top 12” mark (of the three required marks) to be placed in the top 2F of the line.
- The MLA does not support use of this mark as a replacement for hauling gear to check for compliance of the gear marking requirement.
- If a 36” mark is required in the top of the buoy line, MLA’s support for its inclusion is contingent upon the following:
- It should be required in the top 3F of the line to allow for cutting and retying of this section of line.
- This mark must replace the 12” gear mark required at the top of the line.
- Because this mark is required to inform the origin of entangling fishing gear, Maine must have assurance from NMFS that any gear found on a whale without this mark would be determined as not originating from Maine.
Move to June 1 to give lobstermen more time to change over gear.