Miss out on some recent news? Check out the January 2021 re-cap of news from New England and beyond.
Groups petition Department of Interior for New Closures
The Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States petitioned the Department of Commerce to make an emergency declaration that groundfish and lobster fisheries pose an immediate threat to the survival of the endangered North Atlantic right whale. The petition calls for the immediate closure of areas off southern New England and seasonal closures of areas where lobster and crab fishermen operate. The petition specifically calls on the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to designate a year-round gear closure south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and three seasonal offshore closures in the Gulf of Maine, when the use of vertical lines by lobster and Jonah crab fisheries will be prohibited. In response, the Maine delegation, led by Congressman Jared Golden, Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree pushed the Department of Commerce to reject a petition looking to create emergency fishery regulations in order to protect North Atlantic right whales. The delegation noted that the petition “would bypass the established regulatory process and could set a dangerous precedent that could needlessly close lobster fisheries throughout New England.”
MSC says Canada Lobster Fishing Poses Low Risk to Right Whales
Inshore lobster fishing in Canada’s Maritime provinces poses a low risk to critically endangered right whales, according to the latest assessment prepared for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). One of the key tests used by the MSC to evaluate all trap fisheries on the Eastern Seaboard is their impact on right whales. To keep the blue MSC eco-label for another five years the inshore lobster fleets will have to develop an action plan to protect and conserve right whales. A draft MSC assessment released said the risk of entanglement in the Maritimes is not zero, but “the probability of interaction with North Atlantic right whales is very low,” based on where and when the traps are set.
Lower Catch Estimate Projected for 2021 Scallop Season
The New England Fishery Management Council announced that the Atlantic sea scallop projection for the 2021 fishing year would be 40 million pounds of scallops. That is about 23% lower than the 52-million-pound projection for the 2020 season. The 2021 projection would make the season’s catch the lowest since 2015, when 36.9 million pounds were harvested. From 2016 through 2020, landings have been above the 42-million-pound range. The Council noted that the fishery has landed about 36.5 million pounds to date for scallops [mid-December] and that the landing prediction for 2020 was an overestimate. Several years of excellent fishing have been due to scallops coming up in the 2012 and 2013 class years that are now reaching peak growth potential.
Massachusetts Lobstermen Facing New Rules
The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is proposing multiple amendments to current rules regulating fixed gear fisheries in an effort to protect North Atlantic right whales. One of the key amendments would expand the existing large whale seasonal trap gear closure, which runs from February 1 to April 30, to all waters under the jurisdiction of the state. The Division would also have the authority to extend trap gear closures if right whales remain present after April 30. Other proposed regulation changes include lowering commercial lobstermen’s maximum buoy line diameter to 3/8” and requiring all gear to be rigged with buoy lines that break when exposed to 1,700 pounds of tension. Research indicates that this breakaway strength could reduce the number of life-threatening entanglements for large whales by at least 72%.
Federal Stimulus Bill Provides Additional Funds for Fisheries Sector
In the federal stimulus bill, passed in late December, additional money was allocated to the Fisheries Disaster Assistance program which, earlier in the year, had provided $20 million in relief to the Maine fishing sector. The bill provided $300 million to that program, to be made available until September 30, 2021. Of that amount, $30 million is designated for tribal fishery participants and $15 million is for fisheries and aquaculture ventures taking place around the Great Lakes.
The federal relief package also includes more than $11 billion for agriculture and nutrition programs, which includes seafood and aquaculture. Specifically, there are funds to purchase food products for people in need and for grants and loans to small or midsized food processors or distributors.
Finally, the bill includes $325 billion in small business relief which provides an additional $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which includes special programs for small businesses with 10 or fewer employees, simplifies the forgiveness program for loans of $150,000 or less, and repeals the requirement to deduct an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance from the PPP forgiveness amount. The EIDL program also received $20 billion for small businesses operating in low income communities.
DMR Joins White Shark Research Effort
The Department of Marine Resources joined forces with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, the Center for Coastal Studies, the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the New England Aquarium, Arizona State University, the University of Maine, the Atlantic Shark Institute, the NOAA Fisheries Apex Predators Program, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada in a collaborative effort to study white sharks within the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The research will involve hundreds of acoustic receivers throughout the northeast to detect white shark movements from Rhode Island to Canada. Research will also be conducted on multiple life stages using new and innovative tagging technologies, such as acoustic transmitters, data loggers, and satellite-linked tags, as well as tissue analysis.