lobster gear

Laura Rosbrow-Telem – Commonwealth News Service


CAPE COD, Mass. – North Atlantic right whales number slightly more than 400 and are facing extinction, including off the shore of Massachusetts. 

Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration convened a group of experts, called the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team. It made recommendations to the federal government about how to protect right whales and, in particular, how the New England lobster industry can modify practices to save the whales. 

One of the main suggestions was to reduce vertical trap lines from boats by up to 50% in some areas. These lines can entangle whales. 

Peter Baker directs The Pew Charitable Trust’s marine conservation work in New England and the Atlantic region of Canada. While Baker agrees with reducing the number of lines in Massachusetts, he says this goal is easier said than done.

“There’s a lot of permits that aren’t used every year,” he points out. “There’s a lot of gear that isn’t used. 

“So the very first thing is for the state of Massachusetts and others to figure out exactly how many traps they have in the water and how many lines are going from those traps to the surface.”

Baker maintains this process will take about three years – if it happens. 

Massachusetts already is taking steps to reduce harm toward right whales, including closing off parts of Massachusetts Bay during peak seasons for right whales to be in the area.

Regina Asmutis-Silvia, the executive director of the North America office of Whale and Dolphin Conservation and part of the Take Reduction Team, commends Massachusetts for this closure. 

Asmutis-Silvia points out new measures Massachusetts is taking in light of the recent meeting: One of the other recommendations was weakening the strength of vertical lines so whales could escape more easily.

“They’re looking at incorporating a weaker breaking strength sleeve in the ropes in some places, which would reduce the breaking strength of the rope, making it a little bit weaker if a whale had caught into it by accident, and they’re also looking for a 30% vertical line reduction in their fishery,” she explains.