Lobster boats would be tracked under a plan to protect U.S. lobster fishery and endangered whales

The proposed electronic tracking requirements aim to provide a get a better idea of the population of the valuable crustaceans and to protect rare whales.

SHARE Lobster boats would be tracked under a plan to protect U.S. lobster fishery and endangered whales
Adam Daggett stands lookout on the bow as his father John Daggett pilots their boat at Cape Porpoise in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Adam Daggett stands lookout on the bow as his father John Daggett pilots their boat at Cape Porpoise in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

PORTLAND, Maine — America’s lobster fishing businesses could be subjected to electronic tracking requirements to try to protect vulnerable right whales and get a better idea of the population of the valuable crustaceans.

An arm of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate regulatory authority, is considering the tracking requirements for lobster boats that have federal permits. The rules also would apply to boats that harvest Jonah crabs.

Dan McKiernan, who chairs the Atlantic States American Lobster Management Board, said the tracking requirement would be “the single most important thing the American Lobster Board can do to ensure the viability of the American lobster fishery.”

The tracking devices would record fishing vessels’ location to provide better data on where in the ocean lobsters are found, according to Caitlin Starks, a fishery management plan coordinator with the commission.

The new rules — for which final action could come next year, with implementation starting in 2023 — could help protect North Atlantic right whales.

The whales, which number only about 360, are vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear, which can cause them to drown. They’ve been listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act for more than 50 years and in recent years have suffered high mortality and poor reproduction rates.

The U.S. lobster fishery is based mostly in Maine and has been strong there in recent years. Maine fishermen have brought more than 96 million pounds of lobsters to the docks for 11 straight years after never topping that number previously.

But the fishery has collapsed in southern New England. New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island were once a significant part of the fishery, but the southern New England lobster stock is now depleted, Starks said.

Scientists have tied the collapse of the southern New England fishery to warming ocean waters.

The lobster stock in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, meanwhile, is experiencing record abundance, Starks said. Those are areas where many northern New England lobster fishermen harvest the crustaceans with traps. The waters of the Gulf of Maine are warming faster than the world’s oceans, and that’s led to concerns about the future.

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