Helping fishermen and lobstermen coexist
NOAA, enforcement partners and lobstermen’s association team up to address gear conflicts
March 21, 2013
Gear conflicts are frustrating and can be costly. Your fishing business depends on your gear, so the last thing you want is accidental damage.
NOAA Fisheries wants fishermen to understand how different fishing areas are used, especially as their uses change. We also want fishermen to know about a recent gentleman’s agreement regarding gear conflicts that is included in several draft groundfish sector operations plans, how it affects you, and what to do if a conflict occurs.
To explain these developments, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement partnered with the Maine Marine Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association to host a gear conflict workshop March 1 during the Maine Fishermen’s Forum.
NOAA Special Agent Chris Schoppmeyer, NOAA Enforcement Officer Scott Adams, Bonnie Hyler of the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen's Association, Lt. Jon Cornish of Maine Marine Patrol, Lt. Dale Sprowl of Maine Marine Patrol, Lt. Tad Drozdowski of the U.S. Coast Guard, from left, discuss with fishermen and lobstermen how to avoid gear conflicts in the lobster industry and what to do if they occur.
This session provided industry with an opportunity to talk about gear conflict issues with each other and NOAA enforcement personnel, as well as with our state and federal partners. More than 30 people attended.
Framework 48 proposals
During its December meeting, the New England Fishery Management Council approved Framework Adjustment 48 to the federal groundfish plan, which includes measures that would enable groundfish sectors to request access to fish in areas that have been closed to commercial groundfish fishing for many years.
NOAA Fisheries is considering these requests for fishing year 2013 and will seek public comment through a proposed rule published in the Federal Register before approving any of them.
Although we have not made any decisions yet, some of the requests we are reviewing could affect the following areas:
- Portions of Closed Area I and Closed Area II on Georges Bank could re-open to groundfishing from May 1 through Feb. 15.
- A portion of the eastern edge of the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area off of Maine and New Hampshire could open to mobile gear during times that are not subject to existing rolling closures. More information on the rolling closures can be found at www.nero.noaa.gov/nero/regs/infodocs/MultsClosedAreas.pdf.
- Access to defined portions of the Cashes Ledge and Nantucket Lightship Closed Areas could be allowed year-round.
In an effort to minimize potential gear conflicts in Closed Area II, the Atlantic Offshore Lobsterman’s Association and some groundfish sectors have signed an agreement to access Closed Area II. This agreement is included in the draft operations plans for those groundfish sectors that signed the agreement.
NOAA Enforcement Officer Arielle Muth inspects lobsters on board a fishing vessel, looking out for any v-notched or egg-bearing lobsters.
If these operations plans are approved, starting on May 1, 2013, certain areas of Closed Area II will be designated for either lobster trap fishing or groundfish trawling during specific times of the year. By following this agreement, all parties involved can avoid unintentionally damaging another party’s gear. We will evaluate potential gear conflicts as we consider sector exemption requests.
Surf clam areas open
Additionally, we have reopened a portion of the Georges Bank Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Closed Area to Atlantic surf clam and ocean quahog harvesting. This area had been closed to the harvest of Atlantic surf clams and ocean quahogs since 1990.
If you fish in the northern portion of the reopened area on Cultivator Shoals, please take note of this reopening since most surf clam and ocean quahog fishing effort likely will be focused within that area.
For more information on this reopening and how it may affect fixed gear, please refer to www.nero.noaa.gov/nr/doc/12/12scoqgeorgesbankareareopenlobphl.pdf.
The most important factor in avoiding gear conflicts is ensuring that there is open communication between different users of the same area. However, gear conflicts may still happen. If you are involved in a gear conflict in the Northeast region of the United States (from Maine to the Virginia-North Carolina line), please call NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s Northeast Division for assistance at 978-281-9213 and press “2” for the Compliance Line.
A version of this article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of the NOAA Fisheries Navigator, a special supplement to Commercial Fisheries News.