Maine and other New England states with a lobster fishery are developing plans to reduce the risk of entanglement by North Atlantic right whales in lobster gear by 60% as required by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) submitted a plan for the Maine lobster fishery to NMFS in January. The plan was subsequently presented to all seven lobster zone councils for discussion this past winter.
In addition to minimum traps per trawl and incorporating weak points in endlines, a key component of DMR’s proposal is conservation equivalencies, a provision which would allow the individual lobster management zones to implement measures that achieve conservation outcomes equivalent to the overall plans. This provision enables lobstermen in different zones to operate under different suites of rules, ones that work for their local fishing practices, oceanographic conditions, and safety concerns.
Each lobster zone council formed a sub-committee of lobstermen, some of whom do not serve on the council, to consider conservation equivalency measures that adapt the DMR plan to better fit the needs of their zone. All the sub-committees met with DMR to ensure that their zone’s recommendations were equivalent to the state plan. The sub-committees brought or will bring their recommendations to their respective lobster zone council for discussion and vote in late September and early October.
All seven lobster zone sub-committees put forward a proposal for a conservation equivalency based on changes to trawling up measures and use of weak points (designed to break at 1,700 pounds pressure) in vertical lines fished in federal waters. Variation among the recommendations is due to differences in local fishing practices, oceanographic conditions and safety concerns, noted Sarah Cotnoir, DMR lobster zone council liaison.
“The sub-committees at first were concerned that the plan suggested they put more weight on each trawl while also making the lines weaker,” she explained. “But later they looked at the current Maine proposal and options and came around to understanding that weak points weren’t as problematic as they thought.”
Weak point connection types are currently being tested by DMR and include several types brought forward by fishermen who visited the testing facility in Boothbay Harbor with DMR staff. Those types include a single or double sheet bend and a lazy splice.
Other options being developed include a manufactured weak point that will be similar to a plastic dog bone but will be designed to go through the hauler better. All variations being tested will use a variety of rope diameters and manufacturers to determine the variability in breaking strength. This work is ongoing and is being supported by several different grant projects funded by NOAA’s Section 6 Species Recovery Grants to States, the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, and the Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program.