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NOAA Fisheries Seeks Comments on Future Modification to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan's Closure Areas

NOAA Fisheries is investigating the potential opening of current closed Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan trap/pot management areas to trap/pot fishing that does not use vertical lines except during the act of hauling back gear (sometimes referred to as ropeless gear). This could include new technologies to recover gear in the Plan’s Massachusetts Restricted Area and Great South Channel Trap/Pot Closure Area.

Given the surface system buoy requirements in the federal lobster regulations established under the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Lobster, fishermen who want to test new ropeless fishing technologies would have to apply for an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) to fish with trap/pot gear in these areas. The EFP would exempt participating fishermen from the surface marking requirements, but they must still comply with all other applicable federal American lobster regulations, state regulations, and other Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan requirements (i.e., use of sinking groundlines). 

Additionally, there may be state restrictions in areas that overlap state waters.

Through this action, we are notifying the public that we are collecting information on this process, and will present the results to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team in October 2018. If the Team recommends this action should move forward, NOAA Fisheries will develop a proposed rule that would allow the use of trap/pot gear that does not use vertical lines except in the act of hauling back gear in these areas. Further, NOAA Fisheries will ask the Team to recommend best practices and guidelines for issuing Exempted Fishing Permits, such as limiting the number of participants and/or restricting the use of ropeless gear to areas where gear conflicts will be unlikely.

This notice is not a proposed rule and currently no action, other than information gathering, is taking place. Any changes to current closure areas would be completed through a separate, future rulemaking.

Read the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as published in the Federal Register. The comment period is open through October 29, 2018.

Provide comments through the online e-Rulemaking portal (available upon publication on 9/28), or send comments by mail to Mike Pentony, Regional Administrator, NOAA Fisheries, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Please mark the outside of the envelope: "Modification to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan’s Current Closure Areas ANPR."

Questions?

FishermenAllison Rosner at 978-282-8462.
Media: Jennifer Goebel at 978-281-9175.