NMFS Releases Biological Opinion on Lobster Fishery: Now What?

On May 27, 2021, NOAA Fisheries released the updated Biological Opinion and Conservation Framework that will inform a new set of regulations for the lobster fishery intended to reduce the risk to the endangered North Atlantic Right Whales. These are long and complex reports, and we at MCCF will be reviewing them carefully to anticipate the timing and effect of the regulations that are likely to come out later this summer.

Biological Opinion: https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/public/nema/PRD/Final%20Fisheries%20BiOp_05_28_21.pdf

Conservation Framework: https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/public/nema/PRD/Conservation%20Framework_Final_1.pdf

A quick scan suggests that there will be new requirements for trawl configurations based on fishing location to reduce the number of vertical lines. Still, NOAA indicates that the industry will be given time to make those changes during slower fishing months. The delay probably means implementation in the 2022 season. It remains uncertain whether the previously proposed seasonal closure along the Federal Area 1/3 line will be implemented. As requested by Maine DMR, there may be an allowance for state-specific measures that would provide equivalent protection of whales and allow for the seven Maine lobster zones to tailor these measures based on local conditions.

The Conservation Framework also commits to phased implementation over ten years and an adaptive management approach that uses periodic evaluation of the impact of the measures and assessment of right whale status. NOAA also admits the need to improve coordination with fishery and transportation regulators in Canada.

There’s little doubt that the new regulations will create a hardship on fishermen, but the plan is less severe than some had feared. Please send your questions and concerns to panderson@coastalfisheries.org so we can include your thoughts as we study these reports and the upcoming regulations.