YORK, Maine — Local lobstermen are upset that a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] research vessel is back off of the coast of York mapping the depths for new nautical charts and inadvertently cutting their fishing lines and traps in the process.
This is the fourth time since 2009 that a NOAA ship has been working off the York coast, according to Mike Sinclair, president of the York Lobstermen’s Association. Since that time, Sinclair estimates NOAA vessels have caused $25,000 in gear losses for the 50 lobstermen in the association and others who fish out of York Harbor who are not members.
What’s upsetting lobstermen the most is NOAA has never notified them beforehand that a ship would be in their fishing waters, despite assurances given in March by the commanding officer of the present ship, the Ferdinand R. Hassler, according to Sinclair.
Commanding Officer Marc Moser told Sinclair in March he would notify the York harbormaster before the Ferdinand R. Hassler returned to the York coast, and that the ship would not be there until July, according to Sinclair.
“April 27 and the boat shows up here off of York, no notification, no emails,” said Sinclair, who serves on the Harbor Board that oversees the harbormaster’s office. “This is the fourth time they’ve done this in York.”
The Ferdinand R. Hassler has been mapping the area around Boon Island off York, according to Sinclair. Had lobstermen been notified, he said, they would have stopped laying traps in the area.
Moser forwarded requested e-mailed questions for comment to NOAA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Rear Adm. Gerd Glang issued this statement on Wednesday:
“The NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler is conducting hydrographic surveys in the Northeast this year, to update nautical charts, under the management of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. The Hassler had to undergo repairs this spring, which caused us to change the timing of some of our projects. We failed to notify the Maine lobstermen of the schedule change, and I sincerely apologize to them. We are expanding our notification process to include announcements through Maine’s Harbormaster’s Association, and we are revising our survey ship communication policies, in general, to avoid this kind of situation in the future.”
NOAA reimburses lobstermen $80 for each lost trap, according to Sinclair.
York lobstermen interviewed on Wednesday said the state allows them 800 trap tags. When they lose the trap, they also lose the trap tag and cannot add another trap to make up for the one lost until they get new tags, which is a lengthy process, they said.
NOAA does not compensate for lost revenue, they said.
“We lose the gear, they don’t pay you for lost income of that gear,” Sinclair said. “We’ve got claims in since August of last year.”
Eddie Grant, captain of The Agamenticus out of York Harbor, said he’s lost about 20 traps to NOAA ships since last summer.
“I fish Boon Island the first two weeks in May,” Grant said. “I lost seven more. The boat they have isn’t designed to be friendly to fixed gear.”
Lobsterman Bob Donnell said he’s also lost about 20 traps.
Lobsterman Ed Blanar of York sent in a claim in the fall of 2013 for 28 lost traps and has yet to be reimbursed, he said. If he doesn’t see payment soon, Blanar will file a lawsuit against NOAA, he said.
“You can’t work with these people nicely,” he said.
Sinclair said he got a check for $1,000 six months after filing.
The first NOAA ship, the Thomas Jefferson, was off York ledge, prime fishing territory, in 2009, he said.
“Fast forward to August 2013, a ship showed up again to survey, never notified us, and starting towing around. Gear starts getting lost,” he said. “They left. Came back for a third time in September 2013, no notification.”
NOAA did send an email to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Sinclair said. Also, New Hampshire fishermen were contacted, he said.
On March 21, Sinclair met Moser at the Coast Guard station in New Castle, N.H. where he thought they held a productive meeting, he said.
“What we talked about is how we change this process,” he said. “Their whole plan is to do the entire Gulf of Maine.”
Sinclair said there will be more problems as the NOAA ship goes up the coast, where the gear density is greater.
“As you go further Downeast you got areas of 300,000 or 400,000 traps; we’ve probably got 20,000,” he said. “We’re already affected.”