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Lower Harbor Porpoise Catches Allow New Management Approach that Relieves Gillnet Fishermen from Closures

Contact:        Maggie Mooney-Seus                                                                                                     FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

                        978-281-9175                                                                                                                  September  30, 2013

Based on input from fishermen, scientists, environmentalists, state managers and gear specialists who make up the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Team, NOAA Fisheries is revising its management plan for harbor porpoise to eliminate a measure which seasonally closes certain areas to gillnet fishing if the fishery exceeds “trigger” porpoise bycatch rates.

The agency is increasing its compliance efforts to promote more widespread use of acoustic deterrents to minimize harbor porpoise entanglements in fishing gear while the Team considers an alternative consequence strategy.

 “A closure of the gillnet fishery, originally scheduled to go into effect in October to protect harbor porpoise, no longer makes sense,” said John Bullard, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Northeast Region. “Reductions in some key groundfish stocks have reduced both fish landings and the number of harbor porpoise entanglements.”

In 2010, NOAA Fisheries implemented a consequence closure strategy that seasonally closes specific areas to gillnet gear if observed average harbor porpoise bycatch rates exceed specified target bycatch rates over the course of two consecutive management seasons. Three areas of historically high porpoise bycatch were chosen to close if observed bycatch rates exceeded established bycatch rates: the Coastal Gulf of Maine; Eastern Cape Cod; and Cape Cod South Expansion Consequence Closure Areas.

The target bycatch rates were based on the number of observed harbor porpoises caught per metric tons of fish landed.  However, since 2010, groundfish landings have declined.  Therefore, although overall gillnet fishing effort has generally remained the same, and the number of harbor porpoise caught has actually decreased.

In 2012, a closure of the Coastal Gulf of Maine area was triggered after the observed average bycatch rates exceeded the specified target bycatch rate in both 2010 and 2011. The two-month closure was scheduled to occur again in 2013 during October-November, and would have continued in subsequent years unless the management plan was changed.

NOAA and the Take Reduction Team originally adopted the consequence closure measure to provide an incentive for the gillnet industry to use pingers (acoustic devices that are attached to fishing nets which emit a high frequency sound that can be detected by harbor porpoise so they can avoid the nets).  The areas selected have historically experienced high harbor porpoise bycatch levels and relatively poor compliance with pingers. 

“Recent harbor porpoise population estimates have shown that the stock size is stable and that bycatch is below the potential biological removal,” said Mary Colligan, chief for the NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources program in the Northeast Region. “However, it is critical that fishermen continue to use pingers, and use them correctly, so we can keep bycatch rates down. We will continue to monitor bycatch in gillnet fisheries, and will target enforcement to address incidents of high take levels.  If necessary, we will work with our Take Reduction Team to devise new management measures.” 

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 Click here to read the final rule.

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