Press Guide

December 1998

Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan

for the Gulf of Maine and the Mid-Atlantic

The rule implementing the Take Reduction Plan was published in the Federal Register December 1, 1998. The rule is also available from the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources (Donna Wieting, 301 713-2322).

Harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) are among the smallest and shortest-lived marine mammals. Fully grown harbor porpoises are less than two meters (six-and-one-half feet) long. They seldom live more than 10 years. Females conceive once a year and give birth to one calf at a time; over a normal lifetime, a female harbor porpoise will give birth to no more than nine or ten calves.

Harbor porpoises are found in coastal waters where they prey on small schooling fish, including some fish that are sought by gillnet fishers. Harbor porpoises sometimes become entangled in gillnets and drown.

Harbor porpoises are difficult to study because they are widely dispersed in small groups and they spend little time at the surface. Their distribution varies unpredictably from year to year depending on environmental conditions such as water temperature and prey distribution. Along the east coast of North America, they can be found from Labrador to North Carolina. The southern-most stock is the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy stock. In the winter, part of this stock moves south to waters between New York and North Carolina. Biologists think this stock (commonly called the Gulf of Maine stock) is composed of approximately 50,000 animals.

Gillnets Gillnet gear is used to harvest a variety of species, including groundfish (cod, pollock, haddock, and flounder), monkfish, and dogfish. Some fishers haul their nets daily while others leave them in the water an average of two days and as long as five days.

Gillnets in the New England fishery are 50 fathoms long and are tied together in strings connecting up to 30 nets. Some fishers targeting dogfish in Mid-Atlantic waters set strings of nets averaging 4,000 feet in length.

Harbor porpoises have been taken incidentally in gillnets since the 1960s, when a sink gillnet fishery for groundfish developed in the Bay of Fundy, Canada. The gillnet fisheries along the New England coast developed in the 1970s. NMFS estimates that New England and Mid-Atlantic gillnet fisheries now take approximately 2,000 harbor porpoises per year.

The Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan -- The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) directs NOAA Fisheries to reduce marine mammal injuries and deaths caused by fishing gear. In particular, the MMPA requires the federal government to protect any marine mammal stock in which the Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level is being exceeded. PBR is defined as the number of human-caused deaths the stock can withstand annually and still reach and maintain an optimum population level.

On September 11, 1998, NMFS published a proposed rule to implement the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan (HPTRP). That proposed rule addressed both the Gulf of Maine and the Mid-Atlantic coastal waters. At the same time, NMFS published the HPTRP and an Environmental Assessment and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis.

A proposed rule for the Gulf of Maine only was published earlier (in August 1997). The September 1998 proposed rule replaced the earlier proposed rule and offered the first harbor porpoise TRP regulations for the Mid-Atlantic coastal waters.

The final rule was published December 1, 1998. It is available from the Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3226.

The harbor porpoise plan is one of four take reduction plans required by law. The other three TRPs protect large whales in Atlantic coastal waters and cetaceans in offshore Atlantic and Pacific waters.

Goal -- The short term goal of the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan is to reduce, within six months of the plan's implementation, the mortality and serious injury of harbor porpoises to less than the PBR level. The PBR for harbor porpoises is 483 animals.

NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service * 166 Water St. * Woods Hole, MA * 02543-1026

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