December 6, 1999 -- Press guide to American lobster fishery management in federal water

American Lobster

Fishery Management

In Federal Water

Teri Frady
Phone: (508) 495-2239
Pager: (508) 806-9485

Guide 99/03

NMFS Northeast Region

        Press Guide        


All measures in this plan are effective 30 days after publication of a final rule in the Federal Register with two exceptions. The trap tag program and the requirement for vessels to possess area designation certificates are effective May 1, 2000


To bring federal permit holders into the coastwide effort to stop overfishing of the American lobster and rebuild the egg production in the stocks to a level supporting a sustainable fishery.


Continues all existing federal measures (replacing the present marking requirement with trap tagging), including the trip limit for non-trap landings and the moratorium on new entry.

Transfers management authority for federal waters from the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) to the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (ACFCMA)

This increases the states' responsibility for lobster management while retaining NOAA Fisheries' responsibility for federal permit holders and complementary measures for federal waters.

Requires NOAA Fisheries and the lobster industry to work through the Commission, rather than a regional fishery management council, to devise measures for ending overfishing, rebuilding egg production, and conducting sustainable fishing

Federal measures must still be consistent with the national standards for fishery management plans specified in the MSFCMA

Future measures for federal waters to be modified in conjunction with Interstate Plan adjustment and the response of the stock to rebuilding measures.

Who's Affected

Federal Lobster Permit Holders

What's the Same

1. Moratorium on issuing new federal lobster permits

2. No possession of egg-bearing lobsters or lobsters from which eggs have been removed

3. No possession of lobster parts

4. No possession of "v-notched" lobsters

5. Traps must have biodegradable "ghost" panel, escape vents, and identifying markers (trap tags)

6. No possession of lobsters smaller than 3-1/4 inch carapace length

7. Each person on head, charter, or dive vessels may possess no more than 6 lobsters

8. No interstate or international trade in live lobsters smaller than the federal minimum size

9. Non-trap landings limited to 100 lobsters per day and no more than 500 per trip of 5 days or more

10. Fishing year begins May 1 and ends April 30 of the following year

Lobster management Areas -- These areas are the same as those in the Interstate Management Plan. Areas 1, 2, 4, 5, and Outer Cape Cod are nearshore areas that contain both state waters (0-3 miles from shore) and some federal waters (in most cases, between 3 and approximately 30 miles offshore). Area 6 is entirely in state waters of Long Island Sound. Area 3 is entirely in federal water.

What's New for Federal Permit holders

to Complement Interstate Fishery Management Plan (ISFMP)

1. Work with the Commission, rather than a regional fishery management council, to recommend and advise on future plan development and adjustment

2. Moratorium on new entry into federal waters extended indefinitely

3. Adopts lobster management area boundaries as described in the ISFMP Amendment 3 (see map above)

4. Requires annual selection of fishing areas. Any and all areas may be selected, and choices apply for the entire fishing year. If more than one area is selected, the most restrictive of the rules in effect for any one of the areas will apply at all times in all areas.

5. If fishing for lobster in any area except Area 3 only, or only Area 3 and the Area 2/3 Overlap:

* fish no more than 1000 pots in fishing year 1999 and 800 pots in fishing year 2000

* trap limits may be adjusted to achieve conservation goals and/or complement future ISFMP adjustments

* use no pot larger than 25,245 cubic inches

* after May 2003, use no pot larger than 22,950 cubic inches

6. If fishing for lobster in Area 3, or only Area 3 and the Area 2/3 Overlap:

* fish no more than 2000 pots in fishing year 1999 and 1800 pots in fishing year 2000

* trap limits may be adjusted to achieve conservation goals and/or complement future ISFMP adjustments

* use no pot larger than 33,110 cubic inches

* after May 2003, use no pot larger than 30,100 cubic inches.

7. In Area 1, retain no lobsters larger than 5" carapace length

8. Increase trap escape vent size by 1/16 in. (from 5-3/4 in. x 1-14/16 to to 5-3/4 in. x 1-15/16 in.)

9. Purchase and use on each trap one trap tag (replaces present gear marking requirements, effective May 2000)

Measures for Non-Trap, Recreational, and Charter/Party

Lobster permit holders who use non-trap gear can presently retain 100 lobsters per day-at-sea, and no more than 500 per trip, regardless of trip length. This is unchanged. In addition, these permit holders must abide by the 5" maximum legal size if fishing in Area 1. Possession limits for charter/party and recreational vessels (including dive vessels) are also unchanged, at six lobsters per person. These persons must also abide by the 5" maximum legal size if fishing in Area 1.

How The Plan Can Be Modified

NOAA Fisheries will work in cooperation with the Commission to develop measures and plan adjustments, including conservation equivalent alternatives, throughout the stock rebuilding period. Will promulgate, as necessary, measures to complement the interstate plan, and meet plan objectives.

A peer-reviewed assessment is in progress under the guidance of the ASMFC to review the status of lobster populations. This will help determine the extent to which current and proposed management measures will achieve the plan objectives.

Within the Commission process, the industry is represented via participation on seven lobster conservation management teams, one for each Area designated in the plan. These teams have met since the Interstate Plan was approved and several have submitted alternative measures for consideration.

The Commission has recently endorsed development of new measures to further control lobster fishing effort based on historical participation in Areas 3, 4, 5, and 6. On September 1 , 1999, NOAA Fisheries published a notice seeking public comment on considering historical participation measures in federal waters. This will be the subject of future rule making.

Where to Obtain the Final Rule

You can find the final rule in the federal register:

or on the NEFS Northeast Region web site:


American lobster occur in U.S. waters in three stocks distributed from Maine to North Carolina, inshore and offshore, in waters managed by individual states, among states through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and by NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for achieving sustainable fisheries in the nation's waters.

Number of 1998 Federal Lobster Vessel Permit Holders by State/Gear

State   		Trap    		Non-Trap 

Maine 1247 57

New Hampshire 80 35

Massachusetts 821 302

Rhode Island 250 79

Connecticut 26 20

New York 80 74

New Jersey 122 69

Delaware 13 0

Maryland 13 3

Virginia 8 43

North Carolina 6 32

Other 3 10

Total 2669 724

1998 Federal Lobster Permit Holders by Gear Type

Trap    	2669

Bottom Trawl 531

Dredges 81

Other 112

Total 3393

The total number of lobster fishing enterprises in the region is not known-since not all jurisdictions have required permits in the past-but is estimated at 14,000 to 20,000.

Recent Lobster Landings By State (Millions of Pounds)

State   	1995	 1996    1997    1998

Maine 37.2 36.1 47.0 47.0

New Hampshire 1.8 1.6 1.4 1.2

Massachusetts 15.8 15.3 14.9 13.3

Rhode Island 5.4 5.4 5.7 5.4

Connecticut 2.5 2.9 3.5 3.7

New York 6.7 9.4 10.9 8.5

New Jersey 0.6 0.6 0.9 0.7

Delaware <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1

Total 70.0 71.4 84.2 79.8

Minimum legal size: 3 1/4 " carapace length

Percentage of Female Lobster that are Sexually Mature at 3-1/4" Carapace Length

Gulf of Maine		11% 

Georges Bank & South 4%

South of Cape Cod/

Long Island Sound 24%

Annual Percentage of Total Fishable Female Lobster Population Removed by Fishing (1982-1993)

        		Maximum 	Minimum 	Mean

Gulf of Maine 52 38 47

Georges Bank & South 44 26 35

South of Cape Cod/

Long Island Sound 84 33 64

* About 80% of lobsters are harvested from state waters.

* The offshore fishery in federal waters has developed over the past ten to fifteen years, largely owing to technological improvements in equipment and less competition in the offshore areas.

* Lobsters are taken primarily by traps, with a small percentage of the harvest (about 2-3%) taken by mobile gear (trawlers and dredges).

* In 1998, the fishery for American lobster contributed 26.5% of all the Northeast region's gross "first sale" revenue from commercial fishing, valued at $254.1 million and employed approximately 50,000 individuals.

* There is a significant (about 20%) landing of lobsters from federal waters (3-200) miles, worth $23.97 million in 1997

Authorities for Lobster Management

Lobsters and lobster fishing occur primarily in waters under the jurisdiction of states (0-3 miles from the coast), from Maine to North Carolina. States develop consistent management goals for fisheries that occur across state waters lines through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC, or "the Commission).

The Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (ACFCMA) allows NOAA Fisheries to work through the Commission process to develop management measures for federal waters. This is so that the stock and fishery can be managed consistently through out the area where they occur.

Regional fishery management councils (such as the New England Fishery Management Council or the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council) and NOAA Fisheries develop management plans for fisheries that occur primarily in federal waters through a process outlined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA).



Q: Is the lobster stock size likely to decline?

A: Yes. A unified management approach improves our ability to mitigate risk of a serious stock decline and to minimize resulting economic losses.

Q: Does this proposal represent real improvement in the prospects for lobsters?

A: Yes. In conjunction with the interstate management plan, this provides a consistent way to develop measures with equivalent effects in both state and federal waters.

Q: Has there been any change in the stock's status?

A: A stock assessment review is underway by a group convened by the ASMFC. American lobster remain on the NOAA Fisheries list of overfished stocks presented to Congress annually.

Q: Will this plan reduce effort?

A: Yes, for federal permit holders, especially in Area 3, which is entirely in federal waters.

Q: Does this mean that states are now making rules for federal lobster permit holders?

A: No. This action acknowledges that states have primary responsibility for developing management measures to safeguard the fishery, and that federal rules would complement that effort.

Q: Do these rules meet standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act?

A: The plan is intended to end overfishing and rebuild the lobster stocks as required by the act. We believe that, in conjunction with future actions by both the Agency and the states, those goals can be achieved.

Q: Will the agency be able to unilaterally make rules for all lobstering if states fail to do so?

A: No. The agency can make rules for federal permit holders, but not for those who have only state permits.


Q: Why is declaration by federal trap permit holders into specific areas required?

A: To discourage expansion of effort and to conform to the territorial structure of the trap fishery.

Q: Why don't mobile gear vessels have to declare into specific areas?

A: They are already restrained by a trip limit.

Q: Can operators fish the maximum number of traps in each area if more than one area is chosen?

A: No. The operator can fish the maximum number of traps allowed, but across those areas.

Q: Could an operator declare into both nearshore areas and the offshore area?

A: Yes, but the more restrictive management measures and trap sizes apply to all of that operator's lobster fishing.

Q: Could an operator declare into more than one nearshore area?

A: Yes, but the rules of the area with the most restrictive measures would apply to all of that operator's lobster fishing.

Q: Could an operator change his or her nearshore declaration?

A: Yes, once a year, usually along with the application for permit renewal.

Q: Can state permit holders fish in the federal waters portion of the nearshore areas?

A: Only if they have a federal lobster permit.

Q: Can a person get a new federal permit if they don't already have one?

A: No. This action continues a moratorium on new permits in effect since 1995.

Q: Can federal permit holders who declare into a nearshore area fish in the state waters portion of that area?

A: Yes, but only if they qualify to do so under the state's rules.


Q: How were the trap caps and reductions determined?

A: The caps are consistent with present trap usage; the reductions are the first step in beginning to reduce effort to improve egg production and rebuild lobster stocks.

Q: Are federal trap limits the same as those in the interstate plan?

A: They are the same for Area 1 and for the Outer Cape Cod Area. These are the areas where the majority of lobsters are harvested. The trap cap of 2,000 in Area 3 is the same as that initially recommended by the interstate plan.

Q: Why not use a trap cap based on historical usage?

A: Guidelines for historical usage have been recently approved by ASMFC for some fishing areas. NOAA Fisheries published a notice on September 1 seeking public coments on such an approach for federal permit holders. The comment period closed October 1.

Q: Does this action change any state waters trap limits?

A: No.

Q: If a federal permit holder qualifies to fish in both the state and federal waters of a nearshore area, how many pots could they fish?

A: It depends on the pot limits, if any, specified for those state waters. The more restrictive of the two (federal or state) would apply.

Q: And if that nearshore operator actively fished only under his or her federal permit?

A: In a nearshore area(s), the federally tagged pots could be fished in the federal waters portion(s), and in the state waters portion(s) if state rules allow.

Q: Do the rules include a change in the legal minimum size?

A: No. If proposed through the Commission, it would be considered.

Q: Are all pot fishermen affected by these rules, even if they do not target lobster?

A: Yes, if their gear is capable of retaining lobster.


Q: How will the agency know if fishers are complying with trap limits?

A: One way is with trap tags, required for each pot fished under a federal permit beginning in May 2000. An operator will only be able to obtain the number of tags equal to the maximum limit plus a small additional percentage to cover tag loss.

Before fishing year 2000 begins, NOAA Fisheries will issue a letter to permit holders detailing the federal tagging program and providing instructions for ordering tags.

Q: If an operator qualifies to fish in a nearshore area that contains both state and federal waters, and the state requires trap tags, does each trap also have to have a federal tag?

A: Yes.

Q: Will that always be the case?

A: NOAA Fisheries is working with individual states to devise ways to issue and track a single tag valid under both jurisdictions.

NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service * One Blackburn Drive * Gloucester, MA * 01930
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