PORTLAND, Maine — Lobstermen will continue to be able lay traps in parts of the Gulf of Maine where deep-water corals are found, but the use of bottom-tending fishing gear will likely be prohibited there.
On Thursday, the New England Fishery Management Council voted to protect recently discovered corals in the inshore gulf by creating zones where the use of dredges and trawls will be off limits, according to council spokeswoman Janice Plante.
The regulatory body’s decision, however, makes exemption for lobster traps and pots which will still be allowed in the coral protection zones near Mount Desert Rock and along the Outer Schoodic Ridges.
While the newly implemented ruling will not come into effect for sometime, it lands as a relief to Maine lobstermen, who have been concerned that they would be banned from fishing in these areas because of the discovery of coral formations there three years ago.
“This is huge for the industry,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “In those parts of Down East Maine lobstering is literally everything to those communities.”
A ban on lobster traps would have directly affected roughly 100 lobstermen out of 15 Maine ports, McCarron said. But the prohibition on trawls and dredges is unlikely to have a major impact as there is now little groundfishing in those areas, she added.
In 2014, researchers discovered “dense hanging gardens” of coral in part of the gulf southeast of Mount Desert Island.
The regional fisheries council is expected to finalize the new rules in late September and will then vote on forwarding them to the National Marine Fisheries Service for review and approval, Plante said.
The council put off making a decision on protecting offshore areas south of Georges Bank and will continue to review the issue, according to Plante.