York’s lobstermen exchange trap lines, prepare for whale-friendly rule change

From Seacoast online- NH
By jonathan d. benton

In accordance with the Atlantic Large Whale Reduction Plan, lobstermen will be required by a new federal law, which goes into effect Oct. 5, to use only ground "sink" lines for their traps. The intention of the plan is to protect whales that are reportedly becoming tangled in floating lines.

ROPE EXCHANGES

The next rope exchange will be held May 20-22 at the R.C. Moore Transportation Center in Scarborough.
All Maine lobstermen are welcome, but are asked to register with the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation first.
For information, call Laura Ludwig at the foundation at 985-8088 or visit www.gomlf.org.
In response, the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation is conducting voluntary rope exchanges that give sink line vouchers for old polyurethane float rope. Although appreciative, local lobstermen are still not happy with the new law.

"I'm pretty upset, poly-rope has worked fine in the past," said lobsterman Bob Donnell of York.

The first of three rope exchanges in 2008 occurred March 25-27 in Ellsworth. A full 93,000 pounds of used float rope was collected.

Donnell plans to turn in 1,000 pounds of float rope at the next exchange, and estimates it will cost him $10,000 to make the full transition to sink line.

Limitations

Fishermen are only allowed to use the floating rope within three
miles of the coast, but no farther. In 30 years, Donnell said he has
never seen a tangled whale and estimates a loss of thousands of lobster
traps if he has to drag sink line across the rocky ocean bottom.

He also noted that it will be problematic when the lobsters migrate to deeper waters in fall and winter.

"The (exempt area) should be farther off shore," he said.

For every pound of polyurethane rope fishermen turn in, they receive
a $1.40 voucher to be used within 60 days for sink rope at
participating businesses. The standard price of vinyl sink rope is
$2.40 a pound.

Lobster fisherman Jeff White of York is grateful for the Gulf of
Maine Lobster Foundation's rope exchange and has accepted the new law.

"I think that (the exchange) was great," White said. "It was a pretty good deal for old used rope."

In May 2007, he exchanged a 16-foot trailer load of sink line.

"The regulation is going to happen whether we want it to or not," he said.

Pat White, Jeff's brother and executive director of the Maine
Lobstermen's Association, agrees the "buyback has been going good."

He also noted that "locally at my end, people realize the rules
aren't gonna change, but Downeast there has been much more resistance."

Dwight Carver of Beals, Maine, has yet to switch over his lines, and
he sees the exchange as merely a "Band-Aid" that won't help fishermen
in later years when the sink line wears out.

According to Carver, the sink line lasts only half as long as float rope, a difference of about three to four years.

"It blows me away they'd put us in this financial burden and it makes it more dangerous to fish," Carver said.

He was referring to damage that can occur when lines snagged on the rocky ocean floor jam the winches on boats.

Carver estimates a $15,000 loss including lost traps and a four-month installation period.

Violation and enforcement

Some lobstermen are waiting to see if the law is enforced before changing their lines.

According to Susan Williams, assistant special agent in charge with
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the statutory
punishment for using float lines outside the exemption area could range
from a written warning to a $13,000 fine, depending on the severity of
the violation.

Come October, it will fall upon the shoulders of Maine's marine
patrol to enforce the new federal regulations within the state's
borders.

"We will be enforcing that law like all other laws," said Col.
Joseph Fessenden, chief of marine law enforcement, Bureau of Marine
Patrol.

"Working closely with fishermen, discretion and common sense will be
applied. It's a difficult law for people to comply with," he said.

Possible amendment

In the meantime, a proposal has been submitted to NOAA's National
Marine Fisheries Service to allow use of a new type of rope that has a
specific gravity to make it sink, but floats a meter above the ocean
bottom.

Terry Stockwell, director of external affairs for the Department of
Marine Resources, said, "We want to amend the rule to replace the sink
rope. ... This state has long argued that fishermen need some new
technology."

The proposal asks that the new type of rope be allowed outside the exemption area where there have been minimal whale sightings.

"The whole plan is equal protection of fishermen and whales," he said.

The proposal will be reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service at the end of April.

ROPE EXCHANGES

The next rope exchange will be held May 20-22 at the R.C. Moore Transportation Center in Scarborough.
All
Maine lobstermen are welcome, but are asked to register with the Gulf
of Maine Lobster Foundation first. For information, call Laura Ludwig
at the foundation at 985-8088 or visit www.gomlf.org.

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