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Enforcement Update: Pinger Detectors

Pinger Detector Unit
Photo by NOAA

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has recently distributed pinger detector units to enforcement partners in New England to assist in enforcing the regulations implementing the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan (HPTRP). The enforcement partners that received units include state agencies in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The intent of this effort is to enable NMFS to better monitor pinger compliance in the Gulf of Maine component of the HPTRP. The pinger detector units locate the 10 kHz sound emitted by pingers, which are seasonally and temporally required on gillnet gear in New England under the HPTRP during times and in areas where harbor porpoises are present. The underwater pinger detector units were supplied by RJE International, located in Irvine, CA.

Under the HPTRP, acoustic deterrent devices, or pingers, are required to be attached at each end of and in between each 300 ft. net panel in a string of gillnet gear. The sound emitted by pingers deters harbor porpoises from approaching gillnet gear to reduce the risk of becoming entangled. Operationally, from an enforcement vessel the pinger detector unit can be used to monitor the presence of pingers by ensuring pinger functionality as gillnets are being hauled onto a commercial fishing vessel. The capability of detecting pingers at-sea is a critical aspect of monitoring compliance with HPTRP regulations. In the past, functional pingers could only be detected on gillnet gear via visual inspection before or after the gear had been hauled. The availability of the pinger detector units for enforcement use in New England drastically expands the ability to monitor compliance with HPTRP requirements. Both the enforcement presence and directed monitoring effort are expected to increase compliance with HPTRP regulations.

Four pinger detectors have been distributed to the three state enforcement partners mentioned above (Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island). All have been briefed by NMFS staff on proper assembly, use, and maintenance of each unit to assist NMFS in monitoring compliance with the HPTRP regulations. NMFS will continue to coordinate with its state partners throughout the pinger season and provide assistance where necessary. Following the conclusion of each pinger season, NMFS plans to meet with its state enforcement partners to receive feedback on the pinger detector units and to perform any required maintenance. The continued partnership between NMFS and state agencies will ensure proper monitoring and enforcement of the HPTRP.