Letter - Scoping Hearing on Lobster/Gear Right Whale Entanglements

from Dr. David Dow, East Falmouth


On  Tuesday night there will be a scoping meeting  from 6-8 PM at Massa. Maritime Academy to receive public input  on ways to alter the American lobster fishery regulations to reduce mortality of North Atlantic right whales by 60%. This is a followup to the August 21, 2019 NOAA Fisheries GARFO (Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office) public meeting in Bourne that sought input on the recommendations from the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (formed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act) to reduce NARW mortalities from American lobster fishing gear in US waters (0-3 miles for states and 3-200 miles for federal government).  Because of increased mortalities from fixed fishing gear and lower calving rates, the NARW population has decreased to 400 animals.

As inshore waters have warmed and  ocean noise has increased, NARW have migrated northeastwards into the Gulf of Maine or further offshore which has lead to greater interactions with the lobster and snow crab  fisheries.  The acute and chronic stresses on whales have diminished calving rates off  the southeastern US coast and mortality from gear entanglements during the Summer feeding season in the Northeastern US/Canadian waters. Roughly 60% of the NARWs reside in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the Summer where most of the gear related mortality has occurred in recent years.  It is not known where the other 40% of the NARW population feeds on large zooplankton in the Summer. Humpback and finback whales have also suffered increased gear related mortalities in recent years which lead to a Unique Mortality Event (UME) litigation against NOAA Fisheries by conservation organizations.

NOAA Fisheries requires the New England states to hold scoping meetings and develop plans to reduce the NARW mortality by 60%. These plans can include ropeless gear; seasonal conservation zones which move lobster gear from the water to protect feeding NARWs (i.e. Cape Cod Bay from mid-February to early April); better marking of gear to see where the entanglements are occurring and changes to the number/strength of the lines in the water/number of pots on a line; adding lines with sleeves; etc.  NOAA hopes to receive these state plans by the end of Spring and release a draft recovery plan in July 2020. This proposal would then be subject to an Environmental Impact Statement process and some type of cumulative assessment process. BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) is separately conducting an EIS process on the effects of offshore wind farms on NARWs which may be released in December 2020. Do we have time to wait this long ?

I submitted written comments to Ma. DMF on their lobster gear scoping process in state jurisdictional waters and expressed concerns about:

* Separate cumulative risk assessment analysis by BOEM and NOAA fisheries and development of EIS are not being integrated in order to permit the Marthas Vineyard Wind Farm and recover the depleted NARW population (especially increasing calving rate in females stressed by gear entanglements and diminishing gear entanglements/ship strikes in offshore US waters during the late Spring to early Fall feeding season).

* I proposed an adaptive, ecosystems-based management approach (A, EbM) to help explain why both the lobster fishery and NARW feeding areas have migrated into the Gulf of Maine/further offshore, while it has collapsed in inshore waters south of Cape Cod

* The effects of operational and construction noise for wind farms on the behavior and distribution of NARWs appears to be unknown (but may be aided by a recently industry funded study off of New Jersey which involves gliders and moored buoys operated by Rutgers University; University of Rhode Island and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution).

* The ropeless lobster gear technology is still under development and its implementation costs are unknown 

* Need to excelerate negotiations with the Canadian Department of Fisheries & Oceans to reduce gear entanglement deaths in Canadian jurisdictional waters.

* Need to have better constituent outreach (scientists; ENGOs; fishing organizations and concerned citizens  like myself) in developing the proposed management solutions/regulations in state jurisdictional waters.  The Massa. Ocean Management Plan promotes offshore wind farms from 0.3 to 3 miles offshore, while the Ma. DMF regulates commercial fishing and saltwater angling for finfish and shellfish from 0-3 miles offshore.


Dr. David D. Dow

East Falmouth, Ma.

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