NOW VERTICAL LINES continued from Home Page
The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) held meetings with fishermen on June 22 to begin to review the issues involved and to get them thinking about what might be done to reduce the number of vertical lines, also called endlines, without putting lobstermen out of business.
The DMR meetings preceded scoping meetings that have been scheduled in July and August along the Northeast coast by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to discuss the development of a vertical line rule for the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.
Locally, the NMFS meeting was held on July 12, 6-9 p.m., at the Ellsworth City Hall auditorium.
Col. Joe Fessenden, chief of the Maine Marine Patrol, led the sparsely attended DMR meeting with fishermen in Ellsworth on June 22. Fessenden said that NMFS developed a model to determine the co-occurrence of fishing gear density and whale density, using fishing gear characterization data and whale sightings per-unit effort.
“The co-occurrence model is a new approach,” Fessenden said. Most co-occurrences take place outside of state waters, he said, so the state and the industry might be able to use that information to convince NMFS to limit vertical-line restrictions to federal permit-holders.
“I’m trying to be optimistic,” said Fessenden. “I think it might help out – especially if we can remove a lot of the inshore fishermen from this endline discussion. It’s going to be a contentious issue.”
NMFS Scoping Document
According to the NMFS scoping document, the co-occurrence model combines whale sightings data and fishing gear data to identify areas where the two overlap.
“This approach will help NMFS develop a management scheme focused on smaller high-priority areas rather than a generic coast wide-scale broad approach,” the document says.
The whale data includes information from NMFS surveys and from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium database, the document says. The gear characterization data include data from state logbooks, state gear characterization surveys, vessel trip report forms and observer data sheets. The document says that the type of information gathered from industry includes total number of traps fished, total number of endlines, configuration of gear, areas fished, time of year and zone fished.
According to the document, the ALWTRT’s Northeast Subgroup and the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast Subgroup met in November 2010 and April 2011, respectively.
“The subgroups reviewed the co-occurrence model and discussed its implications toward the overall vertical line management strategy,” the document says. “The ALWTRT agreed that NMFS should use the model to develop suites of conservation measures that would ultimately serve as options for the ALWTRT to consider when identifying management alternatives…The conservation measures would address vertical line fishery interactions with large whales by reducing the potential for entanglements and minimizing adverse effects if entanglements occur.”
In the document, the ALWTRT agreed to allow stakeholders to submit proposals outlining vertical line risk reduction strategies tailored to specific areas and fisheries.
“This approach would avoid broad-based management and move toward finer scale management,” the document says.
Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) executive director Patrice McCarron suggested a basic layperson’s read of the co-occurrence model. She said that each box represented a multiple of the amount of fishing gear in that area and the number of whale sightings that have been recorded since 1972. Boxes that are most deeply shaded have a lot of fishing gear and a lot of whale sightings at the same time. The lighter the box, the less of either gear or sightings. The numbers in the model, from 1 to 1,000, do not represent amount of gear or numbers of whales. Instead, they are indicators on a scale that represents the least co-occurrence to the most co-occurrence.
In general, she said, most of the shaded boxes seen offshore represent more whale sightings than gear, whereas boxes inshore represent more gear than represent.
“It’s very confusing,” McCarron said. “It’s a really blunt tool. But it’s better than saying the entire Maine coast is equally at risk.”
Fessenden said that one approach to reduce the number of vertical lines will likely be to “trawl up” – that is, to increase the number of traps linked to one endline. That approach will be complicated by other factors, such as fishing bottom and boat size, he said. Some boats are simply too small to handle trawls, he said.
Maine’s lobster industry is the biggest fishery to use vertical lines, he said.
“It’s safe to say that we’re kind of the king of the whole East Coast, with lines in the water,” Fessenden said. “I don’t think any other fishery comes even close. There are other fixed gear fisheries here and there, but compared to what we’ve got going in Maine, we’re definitely the big player.”
According to information from NMFS, the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan was developed by the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, one of several take reduction teams established by the National Marine Fisheries Service to help develop plans to mitigate the risk to marine mammals—including right whales, humpbacks and fin whales – posed by fishing gear. The teams were established as advisory bodies under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. These three species are also listed as endangered under the Endangeredpecies Act. (www.nero.noaa.gov/whaletrp/trt/ALWTRPRoster.pdf)
The Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team was established in 1996 and is composed of fishermen, scientists, conservationists, and state and federal officials.
The ALWTRP, published in 1997, “was intended to be an evolving plan that would change as whale researchers learn more about the status of whale stocks and gain a clearer understanding of how and where entanglements occur,” according to NMFS information.
According to the NMFS scoping document for the upcoming hearings, large whale entanglements and deaths in the Northeast continued to occur in 2010 and 2011. According to NMFS’ preliminary entanglement data, in 2010, there were 25 confirmed entanglements of five right whales, 15 humpbacks, four minkes and one unknown whale. Eight whales were disentangled completely or partially, with what is believed to be non-life-threatening gear remaining. These included two right whales, one of which later died; three humpbacks and three minkes.
In 2011, as of June 9, there have been 15confirmed entanglements. These include eight right whales, of which one was dead and four were in non-life-threatening situations; six humpbacks, and one minke, which was dead.
According to Fessenden’s presentation, Maine’s proposal will consider local fishing knowledge and submit “equivalency proposals” tailored for specific areas/zones and fishing practices. He said the DMR also aims to bring together affected parties in a discussion, to promote buy-in for any eventual changes in fishery practices, and to “avoid top-down actions that may be unsafe or uneconomical for the fishery.”
Fessenden encouraged fishermen to consider the following discussion points in preparation for the NMFS scoping sessions: what and where to manage; when to manage – year-round, season or a combination; and how to manage – for example, traps-per-trawl limits, gear modification.
Fessenden said the DMR has already heard a number of ideas from fishermen. These included trawling up outside the 3-mile line, depending on the area—for example, go from pairs to triples, and use longer trawls in the western region. He said that, so far, he has learned that fishermen were generally against any area or time closures. He said that fishermen have proposed the use of weaker top rope on the vertical line, to make it easier for a whale to break away if it snags. And he said another suggestion was to use a shorter surface system, in order to reduce the amount of rope at the surface.
One fisherman said the vertical line rule was just the latest form of harassment from the federal government. “We keep on trying to appease them. When are we going to say no?” the man said. “What are they going to do – shut down the fishery? There’s still some congressman that wants lobster, I can guarantee it.”
“We have to come up with something,” responded Fessenden. “I suppose if we come up with something and it’s not acceptable, we have to decide whether to fight them.” Fessenden said the DMR is working to develop a plan that would satisfy the federal government but make the least impact on the lobster fishery.
“There are a lot of people who are very pessimistic about this whole process,” Fessenden said. “They’ve been burned many times. I don’t want to be naïve about it. If we can try to do something that has a minimum impact on fishermen and it’s acceptable, then we’re going present that. We might not be able to come up with a compromise. But this is a freight train coming at us. We’re trying to engage the feds.”
Fessenden said he was encouraged by the fact that NMFS commissioned the co-occurrence model.
“In the groundline discussion, they didn’t do anything like this,” he said.
McCarron encouraged fishermen to think through the potential consequences of refusing to engage in the vertical-line discussion.
“Let’s just walk it through,” McCarron said. “We all grow a big set of balls and we all say, ‘We’re done.’ What would happen?”
“They would try to shut the fishery down,” the same fisherman responded. “But don’t you think, if enough people stood up and said, ‘We had enough’—I think the public would stand behind the working people. I think there’s a change in this country, I really do.”
“You think that [NMFS] would pretend we don’t have a law in place? They would just say, ‘Maine said no; we’ll pretend there’s no Endangered Species Act?’”
“I’m not saying that,” the man said. “But why do we keep giving them, giving them, giving them? Why not draw a line in the sand and say, ‘We’re not going to cross this anymore.’”
McCarron said such an action would likely result in NMFS coming up with its own rule to protect whales from vertical line or, in the worst-case scenario, shutting down the lobster fishery all together. The lobster industry was not in a financial position to fight the federal government, she said.
McCarron drew the audience’s attention to the latest entanglement data.
“So they don’t care that you’ve never seen a whale, they don’t care that you pay taxes,” she said. “They don’t care that you’re hard-working and you feed your family. We do, and I would like nothing more than to tell them to stick it. But if you think through what the actual outcome of that would be, it’s that they will give you a plan or they won’t allow you to fish. That’s the poison we’re picking from. I don’t want anyone talking tough without thinking through what the real ramifications are on your livelihood or on your ability to have a permit to go fishing. That is the potential of saying no.”
“But I’d rather have somebody shoot me and kill me instantly than bleed me to death,” the man said. “And that’s what’s happening.”
Fessenden said that it’s unlikely that the state will endorse any rule that threatens to put fishermen out of business. “If we can reduce the impact, we will,” he said.
McCarron emphasized that, although the final rule is not due out until 2014, the time for fishermen to become involved is now. She said the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team begins meeting in January 2012, and all proposals should be on the table by then.
Comments are due to NMFS by Sept. 12, and Maine’s proposal is due to NMFS by Sept. 30.
The ALWTRT meets in January 2012 to review proposals. It is expected that NMFS will publish a proposed rule in 2013, followed by public hearings, with a final rule to be published in 2014. McCarron invited fishermen to contact her 967-4555; fax (866) 407-3770; firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah Cotnoir at the DMR, email@example.com, 624-6596) with their ideas.
“We do need to strategically look at ways to have things that could work for you guys,” McCarron said. “If you don’t get it in during this particular chapter, the door will shut at that take reduction team meeting. Once they start down that track, the federal government is going to march down that timeline.”
Stakeholders may submit comments at a scoping meeting, or by written comment via fax: (978) 281-9394
Mary Colligan, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources,
National Marine Fisheries Service
55 Great Republic Dr., Gloucester, MA 01930
Attn: ALWTRP Scoping
or e-mail: ALWTRPScoping.Comments@noaa.gov