In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, July 6

Gray seals on the beach in Chatham, MA. Photo credit: NOAA/NEFSC.

  • U.S. Border Patrol agents have increased their efforts in a disputed area known as the “Gray Zone” near the U.S./Canadian Border. The Gray Zone is a rich lobster fishing area claimed by both countries. The Portland Press Herald reports that “[21] Canadian vessels and an unknown number of American boats have been questioned by Border Patrol since October 2017 with no immigration arrests.” Canadian lobstermen say the patrols and vessel boarding are occurring in international waters. One Maine lobstermen told the Herald, “By now, most of the local lobstermen have been questioned by Border Patrol,” and he’s never seen anything like this in his 40 years of fishing.
  • New England Senators are concerned about new economic pressures facing the lobster industry. This week, Senator King of Maine met with local lobstermen to discuss the “impact of [China’s] retaliatory tariffs on the lobster industry and current trade practices of the [Trump] administration.” He also met with the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries to discuss environmental threats. Also in response to the Chinese retaliatory tariffs, Senator Warren of Massachusetts sent a letter to U.S. trade representative Robert Lightizer urging him to find new markets for the lobster industry.
  • The Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, NOAA Fisheries, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources signed a Cooperative Research and Develop Agreement to team up for a collaborative research project. Known as the Eastern Maine Coastal Current Collaborative (EM3C), the project’s mission is “to develop a research ‘framework’ for ecosystem-based fisheries management in the region defined by the Eastern Maine Coastal Current.” During the first phased of the project this summer, the participants will establish an “inventory of what we know.” The framework will be developed over a five-year period, but guaranteed funding is still needed.
  • The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is funding a Massachusetts lobsterman to test “ropeless” gear intended to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales from entanglement. The Cape Cod Times reports that rather than the traditional surface buoy and rope, “the new equipment has a bottom-anchored mesh bag full of rope and floats that can open and pop up to the surface with an acoustic command from a boat.” The equipment has been used successfully in Australia since the mid-1990s and was tested in Canadian waters earlier this year. The $30,000 from IFAW will provide the lobsterman with the new equipment, a trainer, and onboard support.
  • Gray and harbor seals, once hunted for their pelts or killed due to competition over fish, have made a comeback in New Hampshire waters thanks to federal protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Shoals Maine Lab based on the Isles of Shoals runs an annual monitoring program from May to August, and Executive Director Jen Seavey told Seacoast Online that the estimated count of local seals is 600. A 2017 survey estimated 30,000 to 50,000 seals live in the waters southeast of Massachusetts.
  • Maine lobstermen are concerned about the prospect of a bait shortage and increased prices this fall. The New England Fishery Management Council has indicated that they plan to lower catch limits of Atlantic herring – the number one bait source for Maine fishermen – in 2019. The 2018 catch cap may also be reduced “amid concerns about low densities and slow replenishment in the fish stock,” reports Bangor Daily News. Ben Martens, Executive Director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association told BDN, “The decline of the most important forage stock in New England is a significant blow, not only for the lobster industry that uses it for bait, but also for those species that rely on herring as forage like groundfish, tuna, whales, and seabirds.” Lobstermen may turn to menhaden if herring becomes unavailable.

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