The New England Fishery Management Council is considering closing two areas to all fishing, the circular area shown on the chart near Mount Desert Rock (left) and a roughly rectangular area south of Petit Manan, to protect deep sea corals from damage. CHART COURTESY OF THE DMR

Coral protection rules eyed Down East

BOSTON — The New England Fishery Management Council has put rules to protect deep sea corals on the fast track, and those rules may have a major impact on lobstermen – primarily from Zones A and B with some from Zone C – who set their gear around Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge.

The council is considering management measures to reduce impacts to corals from commercial fishing activities in three areas in the Gulf of Maine. One of the proposals would impose a total ban on fishing in the protected areas, which, according to an analysis the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) submitted to the council several months ago, produce a minimum of one-third of Maine’s lobster landings.

Now, the DMR is asking lobstermen who fish in the potentially closed areas for information that will help the department in its efforts to prevent the fishing bans. Late last month, Sarah Cotnoir, the DMR’s lobster resource coordinator, sent an email to fishermen asking them for data that would “demonstrate the potential impact that these measures would have on the lobster fishery and Downeast economy.”

The email asked fishermen for data including name; boat name and fishing port; number of crew; and the number of family members of the boat’s captain and crew. Cotnoir also asked for fisheries-specific information including whether the boat fishes either or both proposed closed areas; the months of the year fished in those areas and the average quarterly haul per trap; and catch rates compared with those in surrounding areas. Most importantly, the DMR questionnaire asks fishermen to estimate the amount of revenue they would lose if they were barred from fishing around Mount Desert Rock and in the Outer Schoodic Ridge area.

An analysis that the DMR submitted to the council several months ago suggests that closing the two areas could have a significant impact.

In 2015, the value of Maine lobster landings topped $500 million. According to the department, landings in Zone A, where the Outer Schoodic Ridge closure is located, topped $99.6 million. In Zone B, where the Mount Desert Rock closed area is situated, landings were more than $70.7 million. To the west, in Zone C, landings were a shade less than $126 million.

During that same year, based on data from dealer reports only, 2,316 lobstermen were licensed to fish in those three zones, and 640 had federal licenses that allowed them to fish outside the three-mile state waters limit, where both proposed closed areas are.

According to the DMR, the boats with federal permits made some 56,381 fishing trips (about 40 percent of the total trips) but were responsible for 57 percent of landings from the three zones. Of course, not all of those landings came from the areas that would be closed, or even necessarily from federal waters.

In Zone A, landings from federal waters represented 65 percent of the total and 67 percent of the value of lobsters landed in the zone.

In Zone B, federal waters landings represented 60 percent of the total and the total value.

Between 2011 and 2014 in Zone A, east of Schoodic Point, trips more than 12 miles offshore – the area where the Outer Schoodic Ridge closure would be located – represented just 8 percent of all trips, but 15 percent of the landed value of lobsters in the zone.

During the same period in Zone B, off Mount Desert Island, trips beyond the three-mile limit (where the proposed Mount Desert Rock closure is located) represented 41 percent of all trips and 50 percent of the landed value.

The DMR will host a session at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum at 9 a.m. Saturday where lobstermen will be able to learn more about the proposed closures, the timeline for the NEFMC decision-making process and how they can participate in that process.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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