Mass. lobsterman press pols to ease access to restriced areas

Printed from:

STATE HOUSE — Bay State lobstermen want federal fishing regulators to work with them to ease restrictions on lobstering in Massachusetts Bay and two areas east of the South Shore, proposing new safety measures that would allow boats to continue to operate while also protecting endangered whales.

Local lobstermen and leaders of the South Shore Lobster Fisherman’s Association met Wednesday at the State House with legislators and representatives for members of the state’s Congressional delegation to discuss their pitch for preventing whale entanglements without having to remove all traps from February through April.

John Haviland, president of the association who lobsters out of Green Harbor, said lobstermen are proposing to open three sections – representing a fraction of the larger 2,965 square nautical mile restricted area – for parts of the three-month ban as long as traps are retrofitted with sleeves for their vertical lines that would break every 40 feet under 1,575 pounds of pressure.

Haviland said the line-safety improvement proposal is based on research done by the New England Aquarium and Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute showing that right whales would be as much as 85 percent less likely to become entangled in lines engineered to break at those specifications.

“The point is not to repeal the closure. It’s to reach a compromise,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester)

Beginning in 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service implemented a rule designed to protect right and humpback whales that prohibits lobster traps in an area stretching from Cape Cod Bay to Boston between Feb. 1 and April 30.

The lobstermen and legislators said this effectively takes local lobstermen off the job for five months because they need a month to remove their traps before the ban and a month to get their traps back in the water.

“What kind of business can operate if you have to close five months out of the year,” said Rep. James Cantwell (D-Marshfield).

Haviland said lobstermen have, in some respects, been victimized by their own success in protecting whales. With other protections put in place to prevent fatal entanglements, officials said the right whale population has more than doubled to over 500 in the waters off Massachusetts over the past two decades. But with the increase in population comes a greater risk of a whale getting caught in a lobster pot line.

The meeting, which was organized by Legislative Coastal Caucus Chairs Cantwell and Tarr, could be a prelude to an official letter the local delegation wants to send to National Marine Fisheries Service regulators with the support of the state’s coastal Congressional leaders.

Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and U.S. Reps. William Keating, Joseph Kennedy, and Seth Moulton attended the meeting, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office has been speaking with the lobstermen.

On the campaign trail in 2014, Gov. Charlie Baker signed up with the bipartisan effort to get regulators to reconsider the lobstering restrictions. “The fishing industry of Massachusetts has been under attack from federal bureaucrats for too long and these new regulations are unacceptable,” Baker said at the time. “These new provisions will not only hurt lobstermen and their families, but also hit all of the related businesses that support the boats that leave our harbors.”

The duration of the proposed lobstering ban was eventually shortened from a proposed four months before it went into effect in early 2015.

— Written by Matt Murphy

Copyright State House News Service