ELLSWORTH, Maine — Federal fisheries officials have issued the final version of a new rule aimed at protecting whales from getting entangled in fishing lines that connect surface buoys to traps on the ocean bottom.
The rules require lobstermen to use multiple traps with each buoy (gear configurations called “trawls”), the minimum number of which depends on how far out from shore the traps are set. With a few exceptions, lobstermen will no longer be allowed to fish “singles,” which are configurations of one trap per buoy and no ground lines. The ban on singles is aimed at reducing the number of vertical buoy lines in the water column, which federal officials say pose an entanglement threat to whales.
The regulations won’t go into effect for Maine fishermen until June 1, 2015, well after this year’s busy lobster season winds down. Regulators predict the new rules will reduce the amount of vertical fishing lines in the water by between 30 and 40 percent.
The new federal rules are a follow-up to regulations implemented in 2009 that required fishermen to use sinking groundlines between traps on their multitrap trawls. Those rules also are aimed at preventing whale entanglements, but fishermen say it has helped to increase their operating costs at a time when the price they get for their catch is still languishing well below what it was in the mid-2000s, when they averaged more than $4 per pound. In 2013, Maine fishermen on average earned $2.89 per pound.