BOSTON — Federal regulators are eliminating restrictions that aim to stop scallop fishermen from snaring sea turtles, saying they’re unneeded because rule changes and gear modifications are protecting the reptiles.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it’s lifting restrictions the fleet now faces in the mid-Atlantic during May through November, when it’s shut out of certain areas because of the risk of running into the migrating turtles. The agency says it will instead monitor fishing and evaluate gear changes, which appear more effective at protecting turtles.
The booming scallop industry has, for instance, developed a dredge that knocks turtles out of its way before the endangered animals get trapped.
Also, trawl nets used by scallopers have been modified so there’s an escape vent turtles can slip through.
The Fisheries Survival Fund, an industry group, said scallopers worked for nearly a decade to develop the dredge with researcher Ron Smolowitz of the Coonamessett Farm Foundation in Falmouth. It said it appreciates that NOAA recognizes what the group has done to protect turtles.
The New England Fishery Management Council still must pass new regulations to officially lift the current restrictions on the scallop fleet in the mid-Atlantic. Federal officials are aiming to have the changes in place by March 2013, the start of the next fishing year for scallopers.