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August 02, 2013
Fishing restrictions proposed for Atlantic whale habitats

Proposed amendments to federal regulations developed under the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP) would change the boundaries of areas in which gillnet and trap/pot fishing are permitted.  In addition, the amendments would place restrictions on the use of certain trap/pot gear and require larger marks on the gear to aid identifying where and when entanglements occur. 

ESA protections

The intent of the ALWTRP is to reduce the risk of serious injury to or mortality of large whales due to incidental entanglement in U.S. commercial fishing gear.  As developed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the ALWTRP focuses on the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, but is also intended to reduce entanglements of endangered humpback and fin whales and to benefit nonendangered minke whales.  Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), federal agencies are required to ensure that permitted activities (such as fishing) do not jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species. 

Areas affected by ALWTRP rules include Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast fisheries where a variety of commercial trap/pot and gillnet fishing are conducted. 

Many areas are exempted from ALWTRP rules, but the boundaries of those areas would change under the proposal, and regulated entities should study the proposed boundaries carefully. 

Preferred alternative

The NMFS considered changes under five alternatives in addition to a no-action alternative that would have maintained the regulatory status quo.  Changes to the ALWTRP under NMFS’s proposed alternative are in three areas:

  • Boundaries and seasons.
    • Exempt New Hampshire state waters from plan requirements, with the exception of marking requirements.
    • Expand the Cape Cod Bay Restricted Area to include portions of the Outer Cape and the area abutting the Great South Channel; this area would be closed to trap/pot fishing between January 1 and April 30.
    • Close two areas in the Gulf of Maine (Jeffreys Ledge and Jordan Basin from October 1 through January 31 and November 1 through January 31 respectively).
    • Create a new trap/pot management area off South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida from November 15 through April 15.
  • Trap/pot gear.  The proposed alternative would reduce the number of buoy lines fishermen employ in the Northeast Region.  Single trap/pot lines would be prohibited and fishermen would be required to increase the number of traps per trawl they set based on area and distance to shore.  In the Southeast Region, single trap/pots would be required along with weaker weak links and breaking strength of vertical lines.  All vertical lines would need to be free of objects (e.g., weights and floats).
  • Gear marking.  Fisherman would be required to increase the length of marks on the trap/pot or gillnet buoy from 4 inches to 12 inches.  Also, three marks would be required on buoy lines (top, middle, and bottom) in place of the one now required. 

Comments on all six alternatives are due to the NMFS by September 16, 2013.

NMFS’s proposed changes to ALWTRP regulations were published in the July 16, 2013, FR

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