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American Lobster American Lobster (Homarus americanus)

American Lobster

Implementing regulations are found at 50 CFR Part 697 Subpart A & B

The American Lobster fishery occurs from Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  There are seven Lobster Conservation Management Areas (Areas), which are labeled as Area 1, Area 2, Area 3, Area 4, Area 5, Area 6, and Outer Cape Cod Area. The American lobster resource and fishery are cooperatively managed by the states and the National Marine Fisheries Service under the framework of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission).

Federal regulations for American lobster can be found in the electronic code for Federal Regulations, under Title 50, Parts 697.1 through 697.26. General summary information on these Federal lobster regulations can be found below, but individuals are urged to view the regulatory text in the electronic code for specifics. To the extent that the general summary information differs from the electronic code of Federal regulations, the electronic code supersedes the information found in this general summary. 

2014 Lobster Federal Register Actions

12/15/2014
Notice Of Availability Of Proposed Fishery Management Plan Amendment; Request For Comments; Northeast Region Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology Omnibus Amendment
12/12/2014
Final Rule; Taking of Marine Mammals Incidental to Commercial Fishing Operations and Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act Provisions; American Lobster Fishery
12/11/2014
Notice; Reopening Of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Closed Areas
10/22/2014
Proposed Rule; 2015 Annual Determination To Implement the Sea Turtle Observer Requirement
08/22/2014
Final Rule; Correction; Taking of Marine Mammals Incidental to Commercial Fishing Operations; Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan Regulations
07/25/2014
Proposed rule; request for comments; Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act Provisions; American Lobster Fishery
07/18/2014
Notice; Request For Comments; General Provisions for Domestic Fisheries; Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation Application for Exempted Fishing Permits
06/27/2014
Final rule; Taking of Marine Mammals Incidental to Commercial Fishing Operations: Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan Regulations
05/16/2014
Notice; request for comments; General Provisions for Domestic Fisheries; Application for Exempted Fishing Permits; MA DMF Lobster Study EFP
04/07/2014
Final rule; American Lobster Fishery
01/27/2014
Advance notice of proposed rulemaking; request for comments; American Lobster Fishery; Control Date for Lobster Conservation Management Areas

 


 Click Below for Past Federal Register Actions & Public Comments:

20132012201120102009200820072006200520042003200220012000

Helpful Lobster Links

Fishery Information

What are other common names for American lobster? 

  • Lobster, chicks, bugs

What is the temporal extent of the fishery?

  • The Federal lobster fishing year takes place from May 1 through April 30

What is the geographic extent of the fishery?

  • There are seven Lobster Management Areas (Areas) from Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  The Management areas are labeled as Area 1, Area 2, Area 3, Area 4, Area 5, Area 6, and Outer Cape Cod Area, see Figure 1.  Area 6 is completely within state waters; therefore, NMFS has no jurisdiction in that area.  The following link labels each area and their coordinates http://www.nero.noaa.gov/nero/fishermen/chartslobster.html
  • There are three American lobster stock areas: Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Southern New England, see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Map of the seven Lobster Management Areas

Map of the seven Lobster Management Areas

At what depths are American lobsters found?

  • American lobsters are caught at depths of 15 feet (4.6 meters) to 1,000 feet (304.8 meters).  Although lobsters are more prevalent in coastal waters, they are also caught offshore as far as 190 miles from the coastline.

Are other species caught when fishing for lobsters?

  • Yes, the lobster fishery has some bycatch, or non-targeted species caught incidentally; these can include finfish species as well as invertebrate species.
  • Large whales can also become entangled in the buoy lines of the trap trawl gear. Therefore, regulations to minimize the impacts to these protected species are in place under the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.

What gear types are authorized and what gears are primarily used?

  • Lobsters are primarily caught using lobster pots/traps
  • Lobster can also be targeted using non-trap gear
  • Non-trap gear typically includes trawl and gillnet. Lobsters are also taken by hand using scuba gear, using a lobster recreational permit.
  • Spearing of lobsters is prohibited

Management Information

How is the fishery managed? 

Who manages this fishery?  

  • American lobster is managed under a dual regulatory framework whereby individual states manage the resource within their state waters (0-3 nautical miles from the shoreline) and the Federal government manages the resource in the Exclusive Economic Zone (3-200 nautical miles from the shoreline).  The states and Federal government coordinate this management through the Commission’s Lobster Board.   The Lobster Board is the Commission committee responsible for developing a management plan for lobster (known as the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Lobster, or Lobster Plan).  The states enact these Lobster Plan’s recommended measures in state waters according to their state regulatory authorities, and NMFS enacts these recommended measures in the EEZ under the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (Atlantic Coastal Act), which is the Federal law that gives NMFS authority to enact lobster regulations.
  • Typically, Federal lobster regulations begin with the Commission Lobster Board process.   Under that process, the Lobster Board charges its Plan Development Team or Plan Review Team – two Board sub-committees - to investigate whether the Lobster Plan needs to be amended.  If these teams believe that further management is needed, the Lobster Board will then charge its Lobster Conservation Management Teams (Industry Team) to develop the needed measures.  The Industry Teams are comprised of industry representatives appointed by the states.  Each of the seven lobster management areas has an Industry Team.  The Industry Team will next meet, develop and approve recommended measures.   The Industry Team will then report those measures back to the Lobster Board.  The Board then seeks specialized comment from additional sub-committees, such as the Law Enforcement Committee, or the scientific Technical Committee, or the industry oriented Advisory Panel.   After reviewing the sub-committee advice, the Board then votes on the suggested management measures.  The states – each with three representatives on their Lobster Board delegation- get one vote each.  NMFS also gets a singular vote.  Measures approved by the Board are then recommended to the states and NMFS to implement.  

Timeline

1997 – Amendment 3 to the Commission Lobster Plan is implemented. Amendment 3 establishes the regulatory mechanism for the transfer of Federal management authority from Magnuson-Stevens Act to Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (Atlantic Coastal Act). NMFS implemented compatible regulations on December 6, 1999.

1999 – Commercial landings reach historic high of 89 million pounds (40,369 metric tons).  The Commission passed Addendum I, which limited access to Areas 3, 4 and 5 to those permit holders who could document fishing history in those areas.  NMFS implemented its limited access program in Areas 3, 4, and 5 on March 27, 2003.

2002 – EEZ Nearshore Management Area 5 Trap Waiver for black sea bass fishers was put in place because the pots used for black sea bass are capable of catching lobster.  Since  Area 5 does not have a large lobster population, NMFS provided a regulatory exemption to allow black sea bass fishers to retain, land and sell a minor allowance of lobster equal to the non-trap harvest restrictions (§697.26), while fishing for black sea bass with traps in Area 5.

2007 – Addendum X established new monitoring and reporting requirements for the lobster fishery, and these reporting requirements were implemented by NMFS in 2009.

2007 – Federal regulations for Area 3 off Southern New England amended to be consistent with recommendations from the Commission; new conservation measures include gauge size increases, an escape vent size increase, and trap reductions.

2009 - Addendum XII established consistent management measures for a trap transferability program in Areas 2, 3, and the Outer Cape Cod.

2009 – New management measures are implemented including changes to the lobster maximum carapace (shell) length restrictions, a requirement for all Federal lobster dealers to submit weekly electronic reports for all lobsters purchased from vessel owners with Federal permits and a change to the v-notch definition applicable to several Areas.  V-notching is indenting the tail fin of egg-bearing females in a “v” shape before returning it to the water, to mark it as broodstock and protect it from harvest and improve egg production.

2009 – Commission approves Addendum XV, which establishes a Limited Access Program in Area 1. 

Spring 2010 – NMFS published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement which addressed effort control and trap transferability in Areas 2, 3, and the Outer Cape Cod.  The Commission Lobster Technical Committee released a report indicating that the Southern New England lobster stock was experiencing recruitment failure and recommended a 5 year moratorium on the fishery.  The Commission evaluated that recommendation along with several exploitation reduction scenarios. 

2012 - NMFS published a final rule on June 1, 2012, to implement a Limited Access Program in the Area 1 lobster trap fishery as required by the Commission in Addendum XV to the Lobster Plan.

2012 – The Commission adopted Addendum XVII on February 7, 2012, which focuses on the rebuilding the Southern New England lobster stock.  Addendum XVII proposes to rebuild the stock by reducing fishing effort in the stock area by 10% through: (1) mandatory v-notching of all egg-bearing females in Areas 2, 4, and 5; (2) closed seasons in Areas 4, 5, and 6; and (3) minimum gauge size of 3- 17/32 inches in Area 3.

2012 – The Commission approved Addendum XVIII in August 2012.  This Addendum is the first phase of the plans to rebuild the Southern New England lobster stock, by implementing management measures to reduce the level of fishing effort in Areas 2 and 3.  This effort reduction will be done through a 25% trap reduction in Area 3 and a 50% trap reduction in Area 2.

2013 – The Commission approved Addendum XIX on February 19, 2013.  This Addendum will implement a 10% transfer tax on both full and partial trap transfers in Area 3 when the Individual Transferable Trap Program is implemented.

2013 – The Commission approved Draft Addendum XX for public comment on February 19, 2013.  This Addendum establishes an agreement between the offshore lobster permit holders and the groundfish sector vessels to reduce incidences of gear conflict in the proposed opening of Closed Area II, to take place in Framework 48 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.  The purpose of this agreement is also to avoid potential damage to egg-bearing female lobsters by mobile gear trawling on the ocean bottom during the spawning season.

Information on the various addenda approved by the Commission can be found on the Commission website, http://www.asmfc.org/.

Market and Landings Information

What are the primary markets for the American lobster fishery?

  • Domestic and exported live and frozen processed products.

What are the current landings and value of the fishery? 

What are the top lobster landing ports?

  • Maine remains the largest lobster landing state, with Massachusetts ranking second.  The top five Maine landing ports for 2011 are: Stonington, ME; Vinalhaven, ME; Rockland, ME; Friendship, ME; and Spruce Head, ME respectively (See Table 1).

Table 1: Maine’s Five Top Lobster Landing Ports

Port

Live Pounds

Ex-Vessel Value*

Stonington

14,854,989

$46,343,219

Vinalhaven

5,498,651

$16,686,985

Rockland

5,365,559

$18,647,637

Friendship

4,324,102

$14,512,745

Spruce Head

3,793,806

$10,787,585

Data Source: Department of Marine Resources, December 7, 2012.
Ex-vessel value is the value that is paid to the vessel owner before the processing of the fish.

Overfishing Definition  / Status Determination Criteria

The Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank stocks are above the estimated reference abundance median and the estimated exploitation is below the median for the Georges Bank stock and slightly below the median for the Gulf of Maine stock.  Reference Abundance refers to the number of lobsters with a carapace length greater than or equal to 78mm (3.07 inches) added to the number of lobsters that will molt and recruit to a carapace length greater than or equal to 78mm (3.07 inches).  Effective exploitation is the total annual catch divided by the reference abundance.  A stock is considered to be below the exploitation reference point threshold if the reference abundance is below the 25th percentile of abundance from the 1982-2003 reference time period.

Thus, the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank stocks are not depleted and overfishing is not occurring.  However, the Southern New England stock is below the estimated reference abundance median and below the estimated exploitation median.  As a result, the Southern New England stock is depleted but overfishing is not occurring.

Status of Stock

Overfished?  Yes (Southern New England); No (Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank)

Overfishing Occurring?  No (Southern New England, Gulf of Maine, and Georges Bank)

Rebuilding Plan

On February 7, 2012 the lobster Board approved Area-specific measures, including seasonal closures and mandatory v-notching, to reduce fishing exploitation on the Southern New England stock by 10%.  The lobster Board then approved Addendum XVIII on August 9, 2012, as part of the Southern New England rebuilding plan, which reduces latent effort and the overall number of traps in Areas 2 and 3.

Biomass/Biomass Target:  N/A

Fishing Mortality Rate:  N/A

FMSY:  N/A

Target Biomass (BMSY or proxy):  N/A

Table 2: 2009 Lobster Stock Assessment Results, by Stock Area

VariableGOMGBKSNE

Effective exploitation

 

 

 

Effective exploitation threshold0.490.510.44
Recent effective exploitation 2005-20070.480.300.32
Effective exploitation below threshold?YesYesYes

Reference abundance (number of lobster)

   
Abundance threshold72,030,5001,912,35525,372,700
Recent abundance 2005-2007116,077,0004,698,67014,676,700
Abundance above threshold?YesYesNo

Note: This information is based on the most recent Lobster Stock Assessment (March, 2009).
GOM=Gulf of Maine; GBK=Georges Bank; SNE=Southern New England

Other stock status information

Three Stocks - Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Southern New England - support both inshore and offshore fisheries.  The Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank lobster stocks have shown an increase in abundance over the past 10 to 15 years.  The Southern New England stock increased in abundance from 1982 until 1997 but is currently at the lowest level observed since the 1980s.  Researchers believe that increased water temperatures in Southern New England may be driving lobsters to cooler, offshore waters and disrupting the settlement of larvae in traditional coastal areas (Commission Technical Committee Report on Southern New England Lobster Recruitment Failure, May 2010).

Most Recent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) / Biological Opinion

The most recent biological opinion was done on August 3, 2012.  A biological opinion summarizes the findings of a formal Endangered Species Act (ESA)-Section 7 consultation.  The areas affected directly and indirectly are the EEZ from Maine to Cape Hatteras, NC, in which 98% of the fishery uses lobster traps. The American lobster fishery is likely to adversely affect ESA-listed cetaceans and sea turtles when the animals come into physical contact with American lobster fishing gear. Such contact can result in injuries, including severe injuries and death. The American lobster fishery does pose a risk of serious injury and mortality to right and humpback whales as a result of entanglement in pot/trap gear. The continued implementation and development of Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan measures, along with an overall reduction in American lobster fishery effort, provide cause to anticipate the number of right and humpback whale entanglements in pot/trap gear should decline or, at least, not increase.

Most Recent Stock Assessment

The most recent stock assessment was released in March 2009.  The Gulf of Maine lobster stock has accounted for approximately 87% of the entire landings since 2002, and the landings have averaged 72.8 million pounds (33,000 metric tons) from 2000 to 2007; this stock is currently stable.  The Georges Bank lobster stock is the smallest fishery of the three and only constitutes 5% of the landings.  However, between 2003 and 2007, landings in Georges Bank were up from 2.9 million pounds (1,300 metric tons) to 5.7 million pounds (2,600 metric tons) and have remained above the time series mean; the stock is in good condition.  The Southern New England lobster stock is the second largest fishery and accounts for 19% of the landings; this stock reached a time series high of 21.9 million pounds (9,935 metric tons) in 1997.  During the years from 2003 to 2007, a dramatic decrease in landings to 9.7 million pounds (2,600 metric tons) was recorded.  The Southern New England stock is currently in a rebuilding phase due to its depleted lobster resource.

Next Stock Assessment

Lobster stock assessments take place every 2-5 years.  The next stock assessment is expected to take place in 2014.  A data workshop is scheduled to take place June 25-27, 2013.

Specifications

Overfishing level: The Southern New England stock is depleted but overfishing is not occurring.  The Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank stocks are in good condition; these stocks are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

Acceptable biological Catch:  N/A

Annual Catch Limit:  N/A

Optimum Yield:  N/A

Domestic Annual Harvest:  N/A

Domestic Annual Processing: N/A

Border Transfer:  N/A

At-Sea Processing:  No at-sea processing

Aquaculture

Researchers are currently developing techniques to breed American lobster and are analyzing the economic feasibility of commercial aquaculture of this important lobster species. 

Juvenile Abundance Studies

State scientists, in cooperation with the lobster industry, are conducting important projects to assist with the effective management of the lobster resource.  Specifically, many states have established vent-less trap surveys to determine the level of juvenile lobster abundance.  By removing the escape vents from the lobster traps and setting them using a random stratified methodology, researchers are able to assess the abundance of small lobsters and the potential for recruitment in the future.  These surveys complement longstanding fishery-independent trawl surveys conducted by NOAA Fisheries and the states.  Since trawl gear can’t effectively sample rocky or shallow coastal bottom types, the vent-less trap surveys compensate for the data void and allows the use of fishermen, their vessels and their expertise in monitoring lobsters.  In order to take part in research activity that requires exemptions to the existing Federal Regulations, an Exempted Fishing Permit or Letter of Authorization must be obtained.

Fishery Quotas

The commercial lobster fishery is not managed by quota limitations; instead trap caps are used to control fishing effort.  The chart below explains the commercial and recreational possession limits.  The Commission has implemented a Limited Access Program in all 7 Lobster Management Areas (Areas).  All Areas, with the exception of Area 1, has also gone through an individual trap allocation process, where vessels are allocated individual trap allocations based on their prior fishing history in the Area.

Table 3: Trap Limits by Gear Type

Gear Type

Permit Category

Description

Trap/Catch Limit

Trap

Area 1

Nearshore Gulf of Maine

Trap max = 800

(All Area 1 vessels may fish 800 traps)

Trap

Area 2

Nearshore Southern New England

Trap max = 800

Federal regulations under review

Trap

Area 3

Offshore

Trap max = 1945

Trap

Area 4

N. Nearshore Mid-Atlantic

Trap max = 1440

Trap

Area 5

S. Nearshore Mid-Atlantic

Trap max= 1440

Trap

Area 6

Entirely in NY and CT state waters - Long Island Sound

Trap = State waters only

No Federal management

Trap

Outer Cape Cod Area

Outer Cape Cod

Trap max = 800

Federal regulations under review

Non-Trap

LO1

Commercial non-trap

Non-trap = 100 lobsters per day for a maximum of 500 lobsters per trip of 5 or more days

Non-Trap

LO2

Party/Charter recreational

Non-trap = 6 lobsters per person per day catch limit

Catch is not to be sold, bartered, or traded

**Permit holders are subjected to the most restrictive rule (50 CFR 697.4).  This means that a permit holder that has more than one Area elected on their permit, must fish the lower allocated trap number in all Areas selected on their permit for the current fishing year.

Please refer to Federal regulations 50 CFR 697.19 for specific information on trap limits and trap tag requirements.

Permits

Currently, there are 3,115 Federal lobster permit holders, of which 285 of these permit holders are in Confirmation of Permit History (CPH) status.  A CPH status allows a vessel owner to retain his or her permit eligibility in the event the vessel has been sunk, destroyed, or sold.  The permit in CPH may then be placed on a vessel at a later date.

Table 4: Number of Federal Lobster permits as of December 2012

Permit Category

Type

Number of issued Permits

Area 1

Commercial

1793

Area 2

Commercial

358

Area 3

Commercial

99

Area 4

Commercial

64

Area 5

Commercial

42

Area 6

Commercial

57

AOC

Commercial

129

LO1

Commercial Non-Trap

927

LO2

Charter/Party Non-Trap

26

CPH

Commercial

285

Category 1 (LO1) refers to non-trap permits.  Category 2 (LO2) refers to Charter/Party permits.

How to obtain a Federal fishing permit

On December 6, 1999, NMFS published a final rule that establishes a moratorium on any new entrants into the Federal lobster fishery.  However, existing permits (when associated with a vessel) can be bought and sold to another entity; please contact the permit office for more information (phone number 978-281-9370).  You may also obtain a permit application and other relevant forms online.  For information of Federal lobster Regulations, please contact the Sustainable Fisheries Division at 978-281-9315.

Commercial Rules and Regulations 

Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Lobster (Lobster Plan), Addenda I through XVIII to Amendment 3.

State waters (within 3 miles of shore)

Federal waters (3-200 miles)

Lobster Trap Definition

A “lobster trap” refers to any structure or other device, other than a net, that is placed, or designed to be placed, on the ocean bottom and is designed for or is capable of, catching lobsters, fished by a Federal lobster vessel.  Please refer to the Federal regulations, 50 CFR 697.2, for specific definitions to Federal lobster management.

Each management area has unique regulations that include:

  • Trap limits, which are a form of effort control. 
  • Each permit holder is limited to either an individual trap allocation based on historical fishing practices, or an area-wide trap cap which represents the maximum number of traps that a permit holder may fish in a specific area.  Trap limits vary by Lobster Management Area (Area), see Table 3.
  • Prohibition on the possession of egg-bearing lobsters and v-notched lobsters. See v-notch marking requirements in Table 5.
  • V-notching is indenting the tail fin of egg-bearing females in a “v” shape before returning it to the water to mark it as broodstock and protect it from harvest, to improve egg production.
  • Prohibition on possession of lobster meat and lobster parts (lobsters must be landed live and whole to ensure that they are of legal size).
  • Gear restrictions (trap configuration requirements and prohibition on using spears)
  • Limits on the amount of lobster that can be harvested with non-trap gear.
  • Fishermen must have a permit to harvest lobster in Federal waters.
  • Limits on the minimum and maximum size of lobster than can be harvested, which vary among management areas.
  • To improve data collection in the fishery, all Federal lobster dealers must submit weekly electronic reports for all lobsters purchased from fishermen with Federal permits.
  • Specific information on the Federal lobster prohibitions can be found at 50 CFR 697.7.

Table 5: V-Notch Marking Requirements in the Exclusive Economic Zone, by Area

Federal Management Area

Area 1

Area 2

Area 3

Area 4

Area 5

Area 6

Outer Cape

V- Notch Marking Requirements

Mandatory marking for all egg bearing lobsters

Voluntary marking  (State: mandatory marking for all egg-bearing lobsters)

Mandatory marking for all egg bearing lobsters above 42˚30’ N. Lat.

Voluntary marking (State: mandatory marking for all egg-bearing lobsters)

Voluntary marking (State: mandatory marking for all egg-bearing lobsters)

Voluntary marking

Voluntary marking

V-Notch Possession Definition

Zero Tolerance

Standard V-notch definition (1/8”)

Standard V-notch definition (1/8”)

Standard V-notch definition (1/8”)

Standard V-notch definition (1/8”)

Standard V-notch definition (1/8”)

Standard V-notch definition (1/8”) (state: ¼” without setal hairs)

Trip, Fish size, and Possession Limits

  • Trip/Possession Limits: The lobster trap fishery has no trip limit or possession limit; non-trap lobster harvesters are limited to 100 lobsters per day or no more than 500 lobsters per trip of 5 days or more.
  • If non-trap gear is involved please see detailed information at §697.17.

In cases where state measures differ from Federal regulations and you hold a Federal American lobster permit, you must adhere to the most restrictive state or Federal regulations.

Gear Requirements

Table 6: Lobster gauge and size limit requirements

Federal Management measurementArea 1Area 2Area 3Area 4Area 5Area 6OCC

Minimum Gauge size

3- 1/4”

3- 3/8”

3- 1/2” (state: 3- 17/32”)*

3- 3/8”

3- 3/8”

3- 3/8”

3- 3/8”

Max gauge size

5”

5- 1/4”

6- 3/4”

5- 1/4”

5- 1/4”

5- 1/4”

6- 3/4” (state: none)

*January 1, 2013 for states

Table 7: Trap Gear Configuration Requirements

Lobster Management Area

Area 1

Area 2

Area 3

Area 4

Area 5

Area 6

OCC

Escape vent rectangular

1- 15/16 x 5- ¾”

2 x 5- ¾”

2- 1/16 x 5- ¾”

2 x 5- ¾”

2 x 5- ¾”

2 x 5- ¾”

2 x 5- ¾”

Escape vent circular

2- 7/16”

2- 5/8”

2- 11/16”

2- 5/8”

2- 5/8”

2- 5/8”

2- 5/8”

 

Lobster Trap Gear Marking Areas

Federal lobster trap vessels must adhere to the gear marking requirements as set forth in §697.21 of the Federal lobster regulations for each gear marking area, as summarized below:

Buoy, Line Marking, and Deployment Requirements for Lobster Traps

  • The deployment and gear configuration for American lobster, as defined by §697.21(b), establishes gear requirements for four geographic areas:  (1) The Gulf of Maine, (2) Georges Bank, (3) Southern New England and (4) Mid-Atlantic gear areas (see Figure2). 
  • American lobster trap trawls consisting of three or fewer traps deployed in the four geographic areas identified in Figure 2 must be attached to and marked with a single buoy. 
  • Lobster trap trawls consisting of more than three traps must have a radar reflector and a single flag or pennant on the westernmost end (marking the half compass circle from magnetic south through west, to and including north), while the easternmost end (meaning the half compass circle from magnetic north through east, to and including south) of an American lobster trap trawl must be configured with a radar reflector only. 
  • Standard tetrahedral corner radar reflectors of at least 8 inches (20.32 cm) (both in height and width, and made from metal) must be employed. 
  • Furthermore, no American lobster trap trawl shall exceed 1.5 nautical miles (2.78 km) in length, as measured from radar reflector to radar reflector.

In addition to the gear configuration requirements mentioned here, permit holders should be aware that American lobster regulations have trap tag requirements for each trap. 

Table 8: Lobster Gear markings locations

Lobster Trap Gear Making AreaN. LatitudeW. Longitude
Gulf of MaineNorth of 42°20´seaward of a line drawn 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from the baseline of the territorial sea
Georges BankSouth of 42°20´East of 70°00´ or the outer boundary of the territorial sea, whichever lies farther east
Mid-AtlanticNorth of 36°33´ at a depth greater than 40 fathoms (73.15 m).West of 71°30´
Southern New EnglandN/AWest of 70°00´ W. Long, east of 71°30´ at a depth greater than 25 fathoms (45.72 m

*See regulations §697.21 for further information on all points. 

Figure 2: Gear Marking and Gear Configuration Areas

Lobster Gear Marking and Gear Configuration Areas

Regulated, Closed, and Access Areas

Any Federal lobster permit holder with a trap designation on their permit, may not fish with traps in an area not designated on the permit.  You may choose more than one designated area when applying or reapplying for a fishing permit.  Specific coordinates of Areas 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and the Outer Cape Cod are located at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/sfd/lobster/AreaCoordinates.AllAreas.3-06.pdf

Gear Restricted Areas

The gear restricted areas were established with input from both mobile and trap gear lobster fishermen and are intended to avoid gear conflicts during certain times of the year.  These areas restrict access to either trap or mobile gear on an alternating seasonal basis as described below:

Table 9: Gear restricted areas

Federal Regulations

Restricted Gear Area

Area Closed to Mobile Gear

Area Closed to Lobster Fixed Gear

§697.23(b)

I

10/1-6/15

6/16-9/30

§697.23(c)

II

11/27-6/15

6/16-11/26

§697.23(d)

III

6/16-11/26

1/1-4/30

§697.23(e)

IV

6/16-9/30

Not Applicable

*SeeFigure 3.

Figure 3: Restricted Gear Areas

Lobster Restricted Gear Areas

*Graphics Credit:  Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 2009

Days-At-Sea (DAS) Requirements

The American lobster fishery is not managed by a DAS system.  The fishery is regulated by minimum and maximum size requirements, trap limits, limited entry for each lobster trap management area and by trip (possession) limits for the non-trap fishery.  Please see the ‘Quota’ section of this webpage for more information on effort control in the American lobster fishery. 

Protected Resource and Marine Mammal Regulations

All Federal lobster trap vessels are subject to the gear restrictions in the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.  Marine mammal regulations require that all lobster traps be hauled back at least every 30 days and set forth specific requirements for the ropes used in lobster trap trawls to reduce the danger to the marine mammals from entanglement.

For specific Federal lobster regulations relating to gear identification and gear marking requirements, refer to 50 CFR 697.21.

Recreational Rules and Regulations

NMFS does not issue permits to vessels for recreational fishing.  Charter boats, head boats, and commercial fishing boats are not considered recreational fishing vessels.  Recreational fishermen without a Federal lobster permit may harvest lobster from a recreational vessel and can keep up to 6 lobsters per person per day as long as the lobster is not used for sale, barter, or trade, unless otherwise restricted by the state of landing.

Trip, Fish size, and Possession Limits

Please see the rules and regulations section of this website for more information on fishing for American lobster.  However, individuals without a Federal lobster permit may harvest lobster from a recreational vessel and can keep up to 6 lobsters per person per day as long as the lobster is not used for sale, barter, or trade and met the relevant size and possession requirements.

Gear Requirements

Please see the rules and regulations section of this website for more information on fishing for American lobster.  

Regulated, Closed, and Access Areas

Please see the rules and regulations section of this website for more information on fishing for American lobster. 

DAS Requirements

The American lobster fishery is not managed by a Days-At-Sea system.  Please see the ‘Quota’ section of this webpage for more information. 

Protected Resource and Marine Mammal Regulations

Please see the rules and regulations section of this website for more information on fishing for American lobster.  All Federal lobster trap vessels are subject to the gear restrictions in the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.  Marine mammal regulations require that all lobster traps be hauled back at least every 30 days.

Commercial Reporting

Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) Requirements

Vessels with only a Federal lobster permit and no other Federal fishery permits are not required to have a VMS.

Dealer Reporting

All Federal lobster dealers must provide weekly electronic trip level reports of lobster purchases.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System Requirements

The American lobster fishery does not have any IVR requirements.  However, those vessels with a Federal lobster permit and another Federal fisheries permit that requires the IVR system must include the harvest of lobster and all other species to NMFS.

Observer Requirements

A Federal lobster vessel must take a Federal fishery observer upon request by the Federal government (50 CFR 697.12).

Catch Reporting and Vessel Trip Reports

Vessels with only a Federal lobster permit and no other Federal fishery permits are not required to report landings to NMFS; although, most states have their own reporting requirements.  Those vessels with a Federal lobster permit and another Federal fisheries permit that requires reporting (VTR’s) are required to report the harvest of lobster and all other species to NMFS.

If an individual permit only possesses a Federal lobster permit, then there are no VTR reporting requirements to NMFS.  Contact your state agency to determine if you have state reporting requirements.

Charter/Party and Recreational Reporting

See Commercial Reporting tab.