Agency Seeks Comment
on Proposed Changes
To Fishing Rules
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SGloucester, Mass. -- The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), an agency of the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is seeking public comment on proposed changes to fishing rules to better protect North Atlantic right whales and other large whales from entanglement in lobster trap, pot and gillnet gear along the East Coast of the United States.
"These moves are part of the evolving method for eliminating entanglements," said Gregg LaMontagne, acting large whale coordinator in NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Region. "The best way to do so is to better understand how, when, and where it happens, then take steps like these to reduce the risk."
Mitigating the effects of fishing gear on large whales is a complex task, owing to the large area involved; the difficulty of documenting exactly when, where and how encounters occur; the variety of operations; and the extremely precarious status of the North Atlantic right whale. These whales are one of four species included in the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, under which measures are devised to reduce the serious injuries and deaths of large whales caused by human activities. Other endangered whales included in the plan are the humpback and finback. Minke whales are also covered, but are not an endangered species.
The proposed rule changes would add to existing measures to reduce large whale entanglements. The first proposed rule would amend the present list of allowable gear configurations for lobster trap, pot, and gillnet gear. In addition, this rule would also alter existing restrictions on when and how gillnetters fish in an area of water off the Southeastern U.S. covered by rules to protect whales from entanglements.
The second proposed change (known as dynamic area management) is based on recent analyses of right whale sighting data and observations. The analyses show that the presence of three or more animals in an area likely means they are feeding, that there are more animals nearby, and that this sub-group will stay in the area until the prey is depleted or moves away. Using this information, NOAA fisheries and advisors have been developing a way to define these areas and quickly institute protection measures. The Dynamic Area Management rule would create protected areas and restrict lobster trap, pot and gillnet fishing within them for 15-day periods.
The dynamic area management zones would occur only north of 40 degrees north latitude. A dynamic area management zone would be triggered by a reliable report from a qualified observer of three or more North Atlantic right whales within a 75 square-nautical-mile area. Each dynamic area management zone would vary in size based on the sightings in the area. Once a dynamic area management zone is identified, NOAA fisheries would determine whether to impose restrictions on fishing and/or fishing gear in the area based on a variety of factors. Any restrictions would remain in effect at least 15 days.
Thirdly, the agency has also published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to further evaluate whether a seasonal area management schedule can be devised, and how it would affect both whales and fishing operations. Seasonal area management would involve a regular schedule of fishing restrictions based on seasonal movements of whales. In a seasonal area management proposal, NOAA Fisheries would continue to observe right whale feeding patterns and movements in hopes of establishing a regular schedule of area restrictions that would significantly reduce the need for imposing dynamic area management restrictions.
Since 1996, “take-reduction teams” consisting of commercial fisherman, environmental organizations, scientific organizations and regional fishery management councils have been working with state and federal authorities to devise ways of making gear less likely to entangle, injure or kill large whales. The measures are routinely evaluated by NOAA fisheries and the team, and changed as more effective ways of mitigating the risk of entanglement are found.
The gear proposed rule is in the October 1 issue of the Federal Register, and public comment closes on October 31. The dynamic area management proposed rule was published in the October 2 issue, and public comment closes on November 1. The advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for the seasonal area management rule was published in the October 3 issue, and public comment closes November 2. Comments should be addressed to: Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources, Protected Resources Division, NMFS, 1 Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930_2298. The Federal Register can be accessed online: http://www.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html.
The Federal Register documents can also be found along with other whale protection information on the NOAA Fisheries Northeast Region whale plan web site.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is dedicated to stewardship of living marine resources for the benefit of the nation through their science-based conservation and management, and promoting the health of their environment. To learn more, please visit the NOAA National Marine Fisheries web site.