January 21, 2001
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SGloucester MA– Lobster and gillnet fishermen in the Northeast will be changing the way they put their gear together in order to further reduce the risk of entangling large whales. The gear changes are effective on January 21, 2001, under a rule published today in the Federal Register.
"We've made real progress over the last 12 months in testing gear configurations that are strong enough for fishing, but weak enough to break away if a whale snags them," said Chris Mantzaris, chief of the NOAA Fisheries effort to reduce mammal entanglements in gear off the Northeastern U.S. "These gear changes should result in fewer injuries and entanglements among large whales," Mantzaris said.
In the past two years, NOAA Fisheries has spent more than half a million dollars working with fishermen, gear manufacturers, and researchers to investigate promising gear modifications, resulting in some of the new requirements. The new regulations call for the use of knotless weak links at the buoy in some lobster and gillnet fisheries. The weak links must break under specific strain – 600 pounds or less for lobster gear in some nearshore areas.
Other new requirements include weak links in the float lines and limits on the types of anchors that can be used on some gillnet gear, and a system of color-coded gear marking on buoy lines in most lobster trap and gillnet fisheries.
The new rules published today leave in place most existing requirements, including some fishing closures in right whale critical habitat in Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel in the winter and spring. These closures have been in effect since July 1997.
Research and field testing of gear designed to reduce risks to whales is just one part of the overall plan to improve prospects for several large endangered whales, particularly the rare North Atlantic right whale. The whale protection plan also includes a right whale sighting program and an ambitious program to locate and disentangle large whales that become entangled in gear. Whale experts are also working closely with the commercial marine shipping industry to reduce whale/ship collisions, the other major source of human-induced injuries and deaths among large whales.
The new gear rules are part of an evolving plan developed in response to a 1994 federal law requiring measurable reduction in serious injuries and deaths among marine mammals owing to encounters with fishing gear. The law also created a series of consulting teams consisting of fishermen, scientists, and conservationists who help to devise ways of mitigating this risk. NOAA Fisheries is continuing to work with the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team and other advisors to better understand how entanglements happen and to devise ways of eliminating this problem.
The new rules are available in the Federal Register and from the NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Office (NERO). The rule and a summary of the rule can be found online at the NERO website (see "What's New" on the Whale Plan Page).