NOAA Sets Measures to Reduce Whale Entanglement

Management Measures Implemented to Reduce Large Whale Entanglements in Commercial Trap/Pot and Gillnet Fishing Gear

June 2014

From: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/stories/2014/25_new_whale_protection_measures.html

Massachusetts Restricted Area (Jan 1- Apr 30)
A leading cause of death and serious injury for large whales (i.e., North Atlantic right, humpback fin and minke whales) is entanglement in fishing gear. The whales can get entangled in the vertical lines, which are ropes that connect surface buoys to traps/pots on the sea floor. We worked with a Take Reduction Team, which is a diverse group of fishermen, environmentalists, scientists and federal and state resource managers, to develop measures aimed at reducing the risk of these types of entanglements.

Federal laws protecting marine mammals require NOAA Fisheries to take action to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries of whales in fishing gear to as close to zero as possible.

Rather than taking a broad-brush approach, the team focused on, among other things, reducing the number of vertical lines in those areas where whales have been more abundant and trap/pot gear density is highest.

We gathered additional public feedback on these measures during 16 public hearings held along the east coast, last summer.

“We wanted to be responsive to what we heard last year, when we originally proposed these management measures,” said John Bullard, regional administrator, NOAA Fisheries. “So we made changes to our proposal. We have been able to decrease the number of affected vessels, reduce compliance costs for fishermen, and still reduce the risk of whale entanglements.”

Modifications from the previously proposed measures include: reducing the number of area closures from three to one, modifying the minimum number of traps per trawl requirements in certain areas to address safety concerns, and allowing a phased-in implementation of the new measures to allow fishermen more time to comply.

New England Measures

We are requiring an increase in the minimum number of traps per trawl required based on area fished and miles fished from shore to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water, with some exceptions. The goal of this requirement is to reduce the number of vertical lines, thereby lowering the risk of entangling adult whales, which frequent these waters to feed. We are implementing a seasonal closure for all trap/pot fisheries; the Massachusetts Restricted Area encompasses Cape Cod Bay and the Outer Cape from January 1 to April 30. We are also increasing the size and frequency of required gear-marks for both trap/pot and gillnet fisheries. Fishermen use paint, colored tape or other means to mark their vertical lines. The new gear marking requirements are intended to make identification of the type of fishing gear involved in an entanglement easier. These measures become effective on June 1, 2015.

Mid-Atlantic Measures

We plan to continue to work with state partners to compile fishing effort and gear location information on an annual basis and, as funding allows, increase monitoring of whale distribution and abundance in the mid-Atlantic region. As in the Northeast, we are also increasing the size and frequency of current gear-marking requirements for both trap/pot and gillnet fisheries in the mid-Atlantic region. These measures become effective August 26, 2014.

Southeast Measures

We are requiring the use of single traps/pots (i.e., one trap/pot per buoy line) in Southeast U.S. waters, a key area for right whale calving. We believe right whale calves would be more likely to survive an interaction with a single trap than with a trawl, which is made up of multiple traps per buoy line. We are also requiring that fishermen use weaker vertical lines and to ensure that all vertical lines are free of objects (e.g., weights, floats, etc.), except where objects attach to the buoy and trap/pot so that whales can break free of the line more easily. Fishermen must also use a weak link on all floatation and/or weighted devices attached to the buoy line for trap/pot gear. The specified strength and placement of weak links is designed so that, if a large whale becomes entangled, it could exert enough force to break the weak link. Thus, the risk of serious injury or mortality would be reduced. In federal waters, we are requiring that trap/pot gear be brought back to shore at the end of each trip. Because gear is not left unattended for long periods of time, this helps ensure that any interactions between gear and whales are observed and reported in a timely fashion, permitting a more rapid response. As in the Northeast, we are also increasing the size and frequency of current gear-marking for both trap/pot and gillnet. A mark for the new Southeast US Restricted Area North would be required for both state and Federal water. These measures become effective on November 1, 2014.

For more information on these new measures, please visit our webpage: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/Protected/whaletrp/

Final Environmental Impact Statement
Final Rule
Bulletin

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