CAPE COD, Mass. — Federal officials want Northeast fishermen to use more traps on fewer buoy lines to keep whales from getting entangled in vertical ropes, according to an announcement Friday — a proposal at least one Cape Cod fisherman says is dangerous.
To further protect North Atlantic right whales, humpbacks and fin whales from entanglement in vertical lines, federal officials also want to close areas seasonally to all trap fisheries, such as those that catch lobsters.
Cape Cod Bay, for example, would be closed from Feb. 1 to April 30. Also, fishermen would be required to have bigger and more numerous markings on traps and gillnet gear.
Among the fishing towns and villages in New England that could be hurt economically by the proposed changes are Sandwich, Hyannis, Chatham, Provincetown, Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven, according to the federal research behind the proposed rules.
A trap, or pot, is a portable, enclosed device with one or more entrances designed to catch crustaceans or fish with one or more lines attached to a surface float. A gillnet is a type of net where the mesh size is designed to allow the head of the fish to enter, but not the body. The fish is prevented from escaping because of the anatomy of its gills.
Next there will be 16 hearings from Maine to Florida to get public feedback on the proposal.
The idea of putting more traps on one line is particularly dangerous for one fisherman in a single dory, Orleans commercial fisherman Steve Smith said Friday.
“They aren’t going to fish that way,” Smith said, given the danger of getting drawn into the water if the line were to accidentally wrap around a foot. “When you start putting more than one on a line, there’s no stopping that trap.”
Smith said that the right whale population is growing under the existing fishing rules, so adding more rules “doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s a bunch of people that are never going to be happy,” Smith said. He added that protecting whales has become an industry itself.
The North Atlantic right whale population is about 500 worldwide.
The new rules have been proposed because the number of deaths and serious injuries of North Atlantic right whales, humpbacks and fin whales per year is still too high in U.S. waters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency is charged with protecting the whales under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. That means the deaths and serious injuries caused by commercial fishing activities can’t be enough to affect the whales’ ability to reach or maintain an ideal population.
The annual target of injuries and mortalities for right whales in U.S. waters because of entanglement is less than one each year, but the average per year is closer to two.
In 1997, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and a team of fishermen, conservationists, state managers, scientists and gear experts developed what is called the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.
Over time, the plan has been modified, but more effort to reduce entanglements in vertical fishing lines in trap and gillnet methods is needed, according to the announcement.
Distributed by MCT Information Services