Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Minimizing Whale Entanglement

The State House briefing today on minimizing whale entanglement was very successful attracting lawmakers, staff members and the press raising awareness of new approaches to protect endangered animals and an important industry.

Massachusetts waters offer important habitats for protected and endangered whales such as North Atlantic right whales, minke, humpbacks and finbacks. Given that nearly 900 lobsterman operate in our state harvesting the most valuable species caught in our waters we all want to minimize risk to these animals. Lobstermen, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and scientists at the New England Aquarium, are looking to pioneer new ways to protect the nearly 400 whales who live along our coastal waters while allowing their important industry to continue its work.

Lobstermen use traps on the sea floor tethered by rope lines. To lessen the risk of whale entanglement and injury they have transitioned to using sinking lines. By replacing floating lines the fishermen have made a reduction of 3,000 miles of rope from the water.

Begging last year, federal fishing regulators seeking to protect whales imposed new restrictions on the industry and removing 3,000 square miles of lobstering along certain sections of the coast. In response, lobstermen are proposing new innovative equipment changes which they hope will win them a reprieve from the ban in select areas from regulators.

They contend that the latest scientific research shows that harm to whales can be dramatically reduced by introducing segments of rope, every 40 feet, which can readily break should a whale come in contact with it. These new “sleeved lines” can protect and prevent entanglement by breaking when contacted by a whale.

Lobsterman typically haul 150 to 400 traps a day and collectively land 9 million pounds of lobster each year. By securing regulatory approval to change lines, risk to these endangered animals will be significantly minimized and lobsterman can restore productivity in some seasonally monitored areas; an outcome we would all like to see.