BOSTON (State House News Service) — Citing threats to the endangered North Atlantic right whale, federal officials are invoking an emergency rule to ban lobster and crab trap and pot fishermen from working in a vast area of Massachusetts Bay over the next three months.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Tuesday said the emergency rule, which was also deployed in 2022, means that trap and pot fishermen fishing federal waters in an area known as the Massachusetts Restricted Area Wedge "must remove all trap/pot gear from this area, and may not reset trawls being actively fished, or set new trawls in this area for the period from February 1 - April 30, 2023."
NOAA cited a "high likelihood that endangered right whales are present throughout this area and in adjoining waters during February through April" and said fishing in that area "poses a particularly high risk of mortality or serious injury from entanglement in fishing gear."
The risk exists, officials said, when right whales are exiting Cape Cod Bay at the same time and place where fishermen are either fishing or staging their gear in preparation for the May 1 opening of federal waters in the Massachusetts Restricted Area.
NOAA said it was implementing the rule "at the request of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
The North Atlantic right whale has been in decline since 2010, according to NOAA, with the most recent published estimate of the population size in 2019 at 368 whales "with a strong male bias." Data from 2020 and 2021 "suggest the decline has continued and that fewer than 350 individuals remain" NOAA attributed the decline to "high levels of human-caused mortality caused by entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes in both the U.S. and Canada."
Written by Michael P. Norton/SHNS