DMF NEWS is published quarterly by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to inform and educate its constituents on matters relating to the conservation and sustainable use of the Commonwealth's marine resources

Volume 17 First Quarter January - March 1997

Table of Contents...

  1. State presents plan to reduce entanglement risk of right whales
  2. Mass. Environmental Trust funds right whale research
  3. Attention Fishermen...Tagged Winter Flounder
  4. Striped Bass Management Update for 1997
  5. A Buzzards Bay Reef - By Design
  6. DMF shelves recreational licensing talks
  7. A Saltwater Fishing License?
  8. Governor approves conservation engineering grant
  9. Belding Award given to Provincetown Captain
  10. Table of Contents for Rules Update including Public Hearings, Regulatory and Legislative Updates

State presents plan to reduce entanglement risk of right whales

They're here. Just as right whales predictably arrived in January in Cape Cod Bay, new fishing regulations - affecting both recreational and commercial fishermen - were enacted by DMF's emergency authority to minimize the risk of entanglement.

These regulations were developed after a series of intense meetings of the court-approved Massachusetts Endangered Whale Working Group(see DMF News, Volume 16; "Court Orders...Measures" ),, charged by federal Judge Douglas P. Woodlock to "engage in substantive discussions.. regarding modifications of fixed fishing gear and other measures to minimize actual harm to Northern Right Whales." Complying with the Judge's order, the Commonwealth submitted a Conservation Plan for Massachusetts Waters to Minimize Entanglement Risk of Right Whales, on December 16, 1996. The plan relied heavily on the expertise of the Working Group members, but the plan in its entirety was not embraced by all members of the Working Group. The plan tried to reduce entanglement risk without devastating the traditional inshore fishing fisheries.

The record number of right whale deaths (6 in 1996) along the U.S. east coast has accelerated the pace of state and federal management. The federal Large Whale Take Reduction Team has completed a federal plan to reduce interactions with fishing gear, and other teams are working on surveillance programs to reduce ship strikes. Ship strikes remains the primary cause of documented man-induced right whale mortalities. Scientists estimate that there are only about 300 individuals left the population, and despite decades of protection, the populations remains in jeopardy.

No mortalities or serious injuries have been reported from entanglements in fisheries in Mass. waters. However, there have been sightings of whales entangled or carrying fishing gear (6 since 1970) in Mass. territorial or adjacent waters. Of the 34 documented right whale entanglements since 1970, four have been observed in Cape Cod Bay. The Bay is one of five "Critical Habitats" for right whales, and the Bay is used for feeding, nursing, and possibly mating. The Working Group identified three generalized types of occurrences:

1) Winter/early spring aggregations: Whales are often seen feeding on plankton patches when available in the Bay. In 1996, 70 individuals were sighted in Bay, representing about 1/4 of the entire known population. By later spring the whales depart the area, likely heading to other critical habitats: north to the Bay of Fundy or east to the Great South Channel.
2) Whales "on the move": Outside of those times when right whales are feeding in focused areas, they swim actively to often unpredictable locations throughout the Gulf of Maine, including Cape Cod Bay.
3) Summer-time feeding aggregations: This occurrence is atypical and was last seen in 1986 when approximately 16 right whales remained in Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay through the summer months.

The plan tried to address each of the three types of occurrences. For the winter period (January - May 15), when whales are known to aggregate and feed in the Bay, DMF instituted a gillnet closure in the Critical Habitat and some lobster gear modifications with more modifications planned in the years ahead. See Rules Update for details. For the remainder of the year, and other areas of state waters when and where whales (on the move) may be found, DMF proposes "breakaway" features for gillnets and an eventual phase-in of certain lobster gear modifications.

Managing during the third type of occurrence, summer-time aggregations, will be most difficult. During summer months, fixed gear fishing, especially lobster pots, increases by an order of magnitude, with the bulk of annual landings occurring during the summer and fall. The plan calls for the development of a surveillance-based management program that might rapidly respond to unexpected aggregations of whales with warnings to maritime users and possible restrictions on fixed gear fishing. Notifying fishermen quickly could be quite challenging: while it would be relatively easy to notify the dozen gillnetters who target dogfish in the summer months in Cape Cod Bay, there are over 200 commercial lobstermen in Cape Cod Bay, who (weather permitting) will need at least a week's time to move their lobster traps. And the recreational lobster pot fishermen? They total about 8,000 statewide, and are allowed to set up to 10 pots - but DMF has no information regarding where they fish.

The Working Group will be reconvening in the weeks ahead to discuss options for surveillance-based management. Currently, DMF is cooperating with other agencies (e.g. National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Coast Guard) and private research groups (e.g. NE Aquarium, Center for Coastal Studies) in an on-going surveillance program with sighting reports transmitted to shipping interests and other maritime users in the area.

The plan relies heavily on gear modifications to reduce the risk of entanglement. DMF has been working with fishermen and a conservation group, International Wildlife Coalition, to test gear modifications. The researchers' challenge will be to devise gear modifications that prove safe to whales while not resulting in unacceptable levels of gear loss or breakage. To date, scientists only can speculate about how whales become entangled, since the event is so rare.

The Group recognized the need to educate fishermen and other maritime users about the plight of right whales, and ongoing efforts to protect them. DMF plans to develop an educational program for fishermen and other impacted users. An informational campaign on right whale sightings and research will be crucial to achieve long-term acceptance of the management plan. For instance, the results of the upcoming season's surveillance program (funded through the Mass. Environmental Trust) will further reveal the use - and importance - of Cape Cod Bay as a Critical Habitat. We hope fishermen, commercial shippers, and recreational boaters will recognize the vital role they can play by reporting right whale sightings and any entanglements.

Finally, regulations were amended to allow vessels to standby an entangled whale. Disentanglement of whales is an obvious - yet at times difficult - means of reducing injury and mortality. Massachusetts is fortunate to have the world renowned Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown , situated so close to important whale habitat (Stellwagen Bank, Cape Cod Bay). CCS is the only organization federally authorized to attempt disentanglements.

DMF enacted changes to the existing 500 yard buffer zone to improve disentanglement efforts. Vessel operators can remain within DMF's 500-yard buffer zone after reporting an entangled whale. Vessel operators must notify Coast Guard or the Division of Law Enforcement when they observe an entanglement, and can stay near the entangled whale until told by enforcement officers or disentanglement teams that standing-by is no longer necessary. This change to the buffer zone regulation is expected to improve chances for disentanglement teams to locate any reported entangled whales.

We urge all affected fishermen and interested parties to comment on these actions and proposals. Public comment on these rules and proposals will be accepted up to the scheduled March public hearings, with a vote on the final rules expected at the April 3 meeting of the Marine Fisheries Commission.

by Dan McKiernan

Mass. Environmental Trust funds right whale research

Most citizens have never seen a right whale, but Mass. motorists are familiar with the increasingly popular image of the right whale's tail on the stylish environmental license plate. Within just a few years, the environmental license plate has become the most popular of all the special license plates issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

The plate's proceeds are given to the Massachusetts Environmental Trust that was established in 1988 to receive settlement proceeds for violations of the federal Clean Water Act in Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay. Operating as a philanthropy, the Trust is authorized to receive private gifts, grants and funds from other sources. The Trust's most visible income source is the environmental license plate featuring the image of the northern right whale and roseate tern. The Trust's contribution to this year's right whale protection programs has been significant through the funding of eight projects, totaling $211,367:

1) Plankton monitoring study, Center for Coastal Studies
2) Publication of Right Whale News for three years, Georgia Policy Institute
3) Development and testing of snag-free fishing gear, International Wildlife Coalition
4) Education of shipping industry about right whales, New England Aquarium
5) Right whale photo-id analysis, New England Aquarium
6) Analysis of birthing intervals in northern right whales, University of Massachusetts Boston
7) Nutritional and genetic aspects of northern right whale survival, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
8) Emergency surveillance, reporting, and management program, Center for Coastal Studies in collaboration with New England Aquarium, University of Rhode Island and the Ecology Research Group

We commend the Trust for their efforts to help protect right whales, and the timely funding of these projects. They represent a significant contribution to ongoing conservation and research programs.

To obtain a Massachusetts Environmental License Plate...

The cost of a lifetime environmental registration is $70 - $40 of which goes directly to the Trust and is tax deductible. Thereafter, when you renew your environmental plate you'll pay only the $40 special plate fee that continues to go to the Trust; the registration itself will renew for no fee provided your registration is in good standing.

For more information, contact the RMV's customer phone center weekdays 9 am - 7 pm at 617-351-4500 or (from the 508/413 area codes) 800-858-3926. Or visit our Website at


Be on the Lookout for Tagged Winter Flounder (Blackback)

DMF's Power Plant Investigations' project is conducting a multi-year winter flounder tagging study in western Cape Cod Bay. Objectives are to map seasonal movements to feeding and spawning grounds, define the geographical distribution of the local population, estimate population size, and determine the significance of power plant impact - namely the entrainment of winter flounder larvae in the power plant cooling water. This investigation is funded by Boston Edison Company to assess impact of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (Plymouth) on this important flounder. Waters adjacent to the plant, including the Plymouth, Kingston, Duxbury Bay estuary are important spawning areas for winter flounder.

DMF biologists are tagging flounder with a Petersen disc tag (round in shape) attached close behind the head. In 1994 and 1995 a total of 2,292 flounder were tagged in western Cape Cod Bay, while almost 5,000 were tagged in 1996. Tag return information continues to come into our office; most people call in the data.

If you catch one of our tagged flounder, please record the date of capture, length of the fish (if possible), tag number and color, and location of capture (LORAN C or GPS coordinates preferred). Please call or send the information (fish under the 12 inch limit should be released with the tag in place) to Bob Lawton at DMF, 50A Portside Drive, Poccasset, MA 02559; Tel.#(508) 563-1779. Individuals returning tag data to us will be entered into a monthly drawing for a gift certificate or fishing tackle from Sandwich Ship Supply. Also, in 1997, anyone returning tag data will be eligible for a one-time drawing of $500.00. The individual's name will go into our drawing each time they return a tag. More information concerning this study can be obtained by calling our Pocasset office.

Striped Bass Management Update for 1997

At the scheduled March 25-27 public hearings, DMF and the Marine Fisheries Commission will present proposals for the upcoming fishing season. Large crowds are normally attracted for bass hearings but these may draw extra attention given the recent publicity regarding salt-water license discussions, and opposition among some groups to the recently approved interstate Striped Bass Plan Addendum.

DMF Proposals. A drop in the recreational minimum size is proposed from 34 to 28" with a 1 fish/day limit. No changes are proposed for the commercial quota that will remain at 750,000 lbs. for the third consecutive year with a commercial minimum size of 34" for the fourth consecutive year. However, changes in the commercial season will be discussed.

To extend the season (that consumers can buy bass) as long as possible, DMF has regulated the commercial fishery since 1995 with a July 1 opening and a 3-week open/1 week closed approach. After receiving informal comments from fishermen and dealers for the past two years about the commercial season, some new ideas will be discussed to extend the season. They include a 10 fish daily bag limit for commercial bass anglers; closing the commercial fishery during the July 4th weekend; and/or replacing the 3-week open/1-week closed schedule with no-fishing days (Friday-Sunday) within each week.

Most of these proposals have been pre-approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Management Board, consistent with the interstate management plan. But in Massachusetts, striped bass management brings out the passionate and skeptical, so adoption of new bass regulations is never a sure thing.

The proposed recreational 28" minimum size limit is expected to stir debate; prominent sportfishing clubs have already expressed opposition to any drop in the current 34" minimum size. At a recent meeting of the Massachusetts Striped Bass Association about 200 members unanimously opposed a drop in the size limit, and then about half supported an increase back to 36".

Public comment in Massachusetts also has revealed that some anglers seem dedicated to the principle "every fish must spawn", before capture. This was the driving principle of bass management of the 1980's when all coastal states acted in concert to increase bass minimum size to 36" to enhance reproductive potential of the 1982 year class. And it worked - with a strong year class in 1989, and then record breakers in 1993 and 1996.

With the size of striped bass stocks now beyond historically high levels (as seen in 1960-72), striped bass management relies on limiting catches to ensure a sufficient percentage of each year class reaches maturity and the large spawning stock is maintained.

Plan Amendment #5 approved in 1995. The proposals at upcoming hearings are nearly identical to those proposed by DMF in March 1995, when striped bass were first declared "restored" under Amendment # 5 of the Striped Bass Management Plan, and all states were allowed to increase their landings. The plan allowed increased fishing for two years (1995 & 1996) at a so-called "interim" removal rate (about 26%), and then in 1997 additional increases were planned that were expected to raise the annual removal rate to a maximum of 30%. (For comparison, scientists estimate overfishing occurred when removal rates were as high as 65% in the Chesapeake during the late 1970's.)

By the end of 1995 and through 1996, all states from North Carolina north to Rhode Island allowed their recreational fishermen opportunities to take two fish as small as 28". However the three Gulf of Maine states (MA, NH, ME) opted to retain more conservative restrictions with larger minimum sizes and bag limits of 1 fish. It appears anglers in these three states are so troubled by the ongoing collapse of New England's groundfish fisheries that they fear a similar demise of striped bass.

Addendum #1. The scheduled changes to elevate fishing rates in 1997 were put on hold last October when the scientists calculated the removal rates attributable to fisheries along the coast had probably reached the interim target rate (26%) even though some states (MA, NH, ME) had not taken full advantage of the relaxed rules of Amendment #5. In contrast, fisheries in the bay jurisdictions (e.g MD, VA) were harvesting bass below the interim rate. So Addendum #1 (to Amendment #5 of the plan) was drafted to develop appropriate measures for the 1997 fisheries along the coast.

The result was three rather complex options that can be loosely summarized as follows:

1) Status Quo - no changes allowed except for the states of MA, NH, & ME) would be allowed to adopt more liberal recreational restrictions (28" min size, 2 fish/day) enjoyed by other coastal states
2) Status Quo for coastal fisheries but increases allowed in producer areas - where the removal rates were below the interim target rate (26%)
3) Strictly apply the methodology of Amendment #5 which would decrease the allowed commercial quotas along the coast (e.g in MA) and the recreational fisheries in the Bay, but would increase commercial quotas in the Bay.

Not surprisingly, DMF received scores of postcards and letters from some Massachusetts fishermen and clubs urging Director Coates to cast his vote for Option 1. Much of the public disapproval (for Option 2) focused on the potential magnitude of the Bay-wide quota increase. But complaints continue to be registered that Bay fisheries target smaller bass (18" min size) than coastal fisheries, and netting is allowed. These are key features of the plan that many coastal anglers still oppose. One notable problem with the plan's dual size limits occurs when a large year class recruits to the fishery. Obviously, the Bay fisheries will be the first to enjoy the tremendous 1993 year class.

On January 22, the ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board approved a modified proposal falling between the conservative Option 1 and more liberal Option 2, resulting in status quo for coastal fisheries - with changes still allowed for MA, NH, ME rec. fisheries to allow 2 fish at 28"- and a smaller than requested harvest in the Bay. Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions forcefully argued against Option 1 "Status Quo" since their fisheries had not achieved the interim fishing rate (26%) that coastal fisheries had achieved. With the enormous 1993 year class expected to recruit to the Bay fisheries this year, a freeze in the Bay harvest would result in an even lower removal rate than last year.

Admittedly, the plan and these options are complex and difficult to fully describe in this short article. DMF has received numerous calls from upset fishermen that their "vote" (postcards, letters) for Option 1 went unheeded. Director Phil Coates in a recent response letter to concerned fishermen recognized that his support for the final proposal "did not totally favor the popular opinion of concerned (Mass.) citizens.. ", he noted that had he done so, (he) "would have simply been casting a vote to win favor at home and would have had to ignore the technical information at hand ...and the plan demands fair and equitable allocation all users and the public."

Massachusetts has the largest and most successful striped bass fishery in the country. But many of our anglers, cognizant of declines of so many other important recreational species - that have not yet received striped bass-like management attention, continue to see any increases in bass catches as another sign that overfishing is at hand.

By late April, striped bass will arrive in Mass. waters, and another great season of striper fishing will begin, regardless.

by Dan McKiernan

A Buzzards Bay Reef - By Design

Incidental artificial reefs, namely shipwrecks, have a long history in Massachusetts waters. Today, many of these wrecks have limited capabilities serving as fish and invertebrate habitat due to natural deterioration. This has prompted the intentional placement of additional materials to serve as reefs on the ocean floor. For example, in the 1970's DMF assisted the Town of Yarmouth with the siting and monitoring of an artificial reef project in Nantucket Sound using materials of opportunity (3-4 tires bundled together and ballasted with cement). Today most of these tire units are still on site and remain functional as a reef platform.

DMF's Sportfisheries program has been active both regionally and locally with reef programs. Since 1991, DMF has served on the ASMFC Artificial Reef Committee. The committee's current mission is to update the Atlantic states' reef profile data base and to revise the 1984 National Artificial Reef Plan. Over the past year, the Division has worked with the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth on a Buzzards Bay artificial reef project. Funding for the project was due largely to the efforts of Rep. William Straus.

This project is a pilot study to: (1) gain first-hand knowledge about the many steps involved in the planning, permitting, and monitoring of a reef and (2) experiment with different designs to enhance the selected habitat. The current proposed 2-acre site off the Town of Dartmouth was selected by reviewing a nautical chart of Buzzards Bay and discussing area usage and general fisheries information with knowledgeable personnel and Town officials. DMF biologists/divers, Dartmouth officials, and a local shellfish dredge boat operator determined whether the area was physically suitable for reef materials and identified what shellfish existed on the site.

There are many different refined prefabricated options to use when designing reefs for habitat enhancement. This is a result of 10-12 years of reef management experience in the various states that have reef programs, which have extensively used both opportunistic materials (e.g. tires, derelict vessels, construction rubble,etc...) and prefabricated materials. Specific reef design, stability and longevity provide desirable habitat for target species of fish and invertebrates as well as compatibility with surrounding habitat and fishing activities.

The materials we chose are called Reef Balls, created and patented by the Reef Ball Development Corps, LTD.. These concrete units are dome-shaped with holes placed randomly throughout the hollow body with a hole always on the top. These units are very stable due to the tapering thickness of the walls. The thickest portion is at the base. The top hole allows water to move in, up, and out (photos in printed newsletter).

Units are constructed in various sizes. We'll be using two different sizes: "Pallet Balls" which are 4' wide by 3' high and "Reef Balls" which are 6' wide by 4' high. We have plans to custom design a series of lobster "condos" around the base of the units, which are just dead end holes. The upper holes will remain open to the inside of the unit. The Reef Ball units are compatible with nearby existing bottom structure and fishing activities due to their low profile, holes/crevices, rough surface and lack of corners.

Fishing will be allowed on the reef site. Part of our interest lies with the public's use of the reef as well and what type of effects those activities have on a shallow water reef. DMF will be the permit holder and will use divers to monitor the reef's progress. If individual units are maneuverable and easily placed on a specific spot, then we will experiment with the overall layout to determine the most effective spacing.

The University will collect water quality and plankton data by incorporating this site into their established Buzzards Bay sampling regime. Any additional research studies will be subject to available funds.

by Karen B. Rypka, Sportfish Program Biologist

DMF shelves licensing talks

Director Phil Coates announced DMF would not pursue implementation of a recreational saltwater fishing license. Director Coates said, "We met with sportsmen's groups and others regarding this issue, and most of the feedback we got was negative. We do not intend to proceed with seeking a saltwater recreational fishing license without the support of the constituency that would pay the fee and benefit from its implementation."

Contrary to some reports, the DMF has not proposed, drafted, or filed legislation for any statute that would institute a saltwater sportfishing license in this state. Division staff have attended numerous meetings with sportfishing clubs, county sportsmen's leagues, and other groups located throughout coastal Massachusetts over the past several weeks to discuss with club members the future prospect and potential benefits of developing an enhanced sportfisheries program based on revenues from a saltwater sportfishing license. The Division has determined from these discussions that substantial resistance to this licensing concept exists, and accordingly, will not recommend nor seek that any such legislation be filed.

The following article has been composed by Marine Fisheries Commission member Tony Tolentino, and recently appeared in On the Water, a Cape Cod fishing and boating magazine . Tony also serves on the Commission's Recreational Subcommittee.

A Saltwater Fishing License?

by Tony Tolentino

By now, there are very few people associated with sportfishing in Massachusetts who have not read or heard about the idea of a saltwater fishing license for recreational fishermen.

As with most new ideas that involve change, there is a fair amount of public information that is accurate and a fair amount of information that is inaccurate. It is the purpose of this article to attempt to present a fair and objective overview of the issues involved with a saltwater fishing license.

Although I referred previously to the saltwater fishing license as a new idea, it actually is not new. There are currently 12 states that have a saltwater license. Also, in 1986 there was a serious effort in Massachusetts to pass legislation that would establish a saltwater fishing license. However, this effort was not successful.

Recently, in response to a substantial number of recreational fishermen who are advocating a saltwater fishing license as a means for achieving a better sportfishing and recreational program for Massachusetts, the Division of marine Fisheries formed a subcommittee of the Marine Fisheries Commission to examine all of the issues related to this goal. Given the fact that Massachusetts now has a new sportfishing director in the person of Paul Diodati, along with a Marine Fisheries Commission that has a fair representation for the recreational sector, it seemed appropriate to form this committee.

It is important to understand that this subcommittee is strictly a fact finding group which did not originate from a bureaucratic source. It is not a product or effort on the part of the Governor's office, the legislature or other branch of government interested in yet another source of tax revenue. In fact, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Governor and legislature would be more inclined to oppose such an effort at this time. In essence, this sportfishing and recreational fishing committee believes it is possible to have an outstanding sportfishing program that will benefit all sportfishing and recreational user groups. The subcommittee has not ruled out any possible sources of revenue, including a saltwater fishing license, to help pay for the program.

Dedicated Funding
It is also important to understand what dedicated funding means. In July 1991, Governor Weld approved the creation of a Marine Fisheries Fund which allowed for the earmarking of funds from commercial licenses, permits and other sources directly to the DMF rather than going into the general fund where the monies could be used for purposes other than those benefitting Massachusetts commercial and recreational fisheries.

The issue of dedicated funding is critical to a saltwater fishing license, so much so that the 1986 bill for a saltwater license contained a provision for dedicated funding, without which there would have been a very remote chance for passage. The fact that we already have dedicated funding in place has, in my opinion, added significantly to the renewed interest for a saltwater license.

The Sportfishing Subcommittee
As stated earlier, the sportfishing subcommittee of the Division of Marine Fisheries is not a bureaucratic group. It is composed of very dedicated sport and recreational people who have a sincere interest in exploring opportunities for improving sport and recreational fishing inMassachusetts. These individuals receive no money or other compensation for their work.

At the first meeting of this committee, it was unanimously agreed that the primary goal and objective of the subcommittee would be the achievement of the finest sportfishing and recreational fishing program in the entire country. Further, no group or individual would be excluded from participating in the thought process or adding their own ideas to a "wish list" for the program.

In other words, every individual or group is invited to attend any of Paul Diodati's (chairman of the subcommittee) presentations or contact other subcommittee members with their ideas. It is assumed that this wish list will include ideas for increased or improved public access to the ocean, increased environmental enforcement, enhanced fish stock assessment methods, improved habitat protection, artificial reefs, etc.

The sportfishing subcommittee is well aware of the DMF budgetary constraints and the fact that sportfishing cannot presently compete in the appropriations arena against public issues involving education, social welfare, or law enforcement, to name a few. It is also assumed that after all the user groups contribute their wish list ideas, the costs of the wish list would be estimated and prioritized. It is expected that at this point a saltwater fishing license would be offered as a possible way of paying for the wish list. In a sense, debating the saltwater license at this time is somewhat like putting the horse before the cart.

Putting it into perspective, Paul Diodati's main objective is to obtain all the feedback possible from every conceivable source and then package these ideas into a proposal for sportfishing and recreational fishing programs for the state of Massachusetts. This done, a budget and timetable for both short-term and long-term goals would be submitted for public review. In addition, this proposal is expected to contain all of the safeguards to address public concerns for protecting the funds from outside sources. It will also contain a public accountability section in which a sportfishing and recreational committee would oversee the spending and accounting aspects of the program.

The Real Issue - How to Pay for it?
While opponents of a saltwater fishing license claim that 100 percent of their polls show opposition to the license, how many of these same people would really oppose the ideas contained in a saltwater and recreational program, the scope of which is scantily described in this article? I would venture a guess at none or close to none. So the real issue is how to pay for the program.

If the public feels there are better ways to raise the money needed other than a saltwater license, then let it be known for everyone to hear. There is nothing sacred about a license!

The vast majority of recreational and sportfishing anglers are not satisfied with the way things are now. They are concerned about pollution, dwindling fish stocks, loss of habitat, inadequate beach access and the perception that sport and recreational fishing has been, and will always be, a low priority for fisheries managers.

Many fishermen feel that the status quo is not the answer. There is increased competition for allocation of a dwindling resource. How to assure sport and recreational fishing's success in dealing with the conservation of the resource, a healthy renewal of the resource for the next generation and a fair share of the resource should be everyone's common goal.

Governor approves conservation engineering grant

DMF's Conservation Engineering Program received a major boost in January when the Weld/Celluci administration committed $282,000 fishing gear development, gear testing and monitoring. On January 22, Secretary Trudy Coxe and Commissioner John Phillips announced the grant on Provincetown's McMillan Wharf to a large gathering of fishermen, dealers, DMF biologists, and the local media.

The Division will employ conservation engineering strategies that were so successful last fall in the Cape Cod Bay whiting fishery (see DMF News, December 1996). Two fisheries of that will receive most of the attention target whiting, red hake, and dogfish, fisheries that have been especially important to Provincetown and Gloucester vessels.

New federal regulations designed to conserve groundfish restrict many fishermen from using certain gear types, such as small-mesh nets, in most large areas of the Gulf of Maine and George's Bank. Longstanding traditional fisheries in certain areas are now prohibited because of excessive by-catch and discard of valuable groundfish species (cod, haddock, flounders). Furthermore, on-going state initiatives to promote undervalued species (e.g. Make a Splash! campaign by the Governor's Seafood Task Force) will be threatened if some of these species are not available to markets.

Several other fisheries facing regulatory threats are also being considered. For example, fixed gear fishing (lobster pots and gillnets) in most of Cape Cod Bay may be threatened by chance entanglements of right whales. The DMF conservation engineering staff are assisting researchers trying to devise gear modifications that will allow continued fixed gear fishing in areas of whale occurrences, (see lead article pgs. 1-2).

The means to facilitate these projects are not simple. First, the fishing gear must be proven to reduce bycatch and be reliable. Second, a fishing and sampling protocol must be established to satisfy the detailed process to obtain federal permits. Then, an intense series of carefully controlled sea sampling cruises are tasked to select fishermen and scientists, working together.

The fisheries that will result from these efforts require the interest and commitment of fishermen. If fishermen do not accept responsible fishing, they will face the probable alternative - no fishing at all.

By Arne Carr, Conservation Engineering Program (Pocasset Office).

Belding Award given to Provincetown Captain

Acting on a DMF recommendation, the Marine Fisheries Commission selected Captain Henry Souza of Province town to receive the 1996 Belding Award. This annual award is given to recognize contributions towards conservation and sustainable use of the state's marine resources. Nominees may be sport or commercial fishermen, fisheries professionals, or environmentalists.

DMF recommended Henry Souza because he has played the major role in developing the raised footrope trawl to catch whiting with minimal by-catch of groundfish. The enthusiasm and persistence of Captain Souza made the net work, and he set the example for other fishermen in the fleet. He has touted the net in Provincetown and has helped other fishermen modify their nets to create their own raised footrope trawl. He is an example of a commercial fishermen who recognizes the importance of fisheries conservation, by-catch reduction, and industry's obligation to cooperate with fisheries managers.

A late March ceremony is planned in Boston.

Past recipients:
1990 Elizabeth Stromeyer
1991 Lester Smith
1992 Henry (Hal) Lyman
1993 Frank Grice
1994 Frank Mirarchi
1995 Jack Crowley


EDITORS: Dan McKiernan & David Pierce
GRAPHICS: David Gabriel

DMF receives state and federal funds to conduct research, management and development of the Commonwealth's marine fishery resources. Information in this publication in alternative formats is available.

Philip G. Coates, Director, DMF
John C. Phillips, Comm'nr DFWELE
Trudy Coxe, Secretary, EOEA
William F. Weld, Governor

Comments and suggestions for the newsletter are welcome. Please contact the Editors at (617) 727-3193, or write to DMF, 100 Cambridge St., Boston, MA 02202.

Publication #17020-12-7000 11/96-$2030

Division of Marine Fisheries
100 Cambridge Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02202

Division of Marine Fisheries

Public Hearings / Regulations / Legislation

Volume 7 Number 1

Table of Contents for Rules Update....

  1. Notices of Public Hearings
  2. Regulatory Update
  3. Legislative Update

Notice of Public Hearings
Scheduled for March 25, 26, & 27, 1997


Under the provisions of G.L. C. 30A and pursuant to the authority found in G.L. c 130 ss. 17A, 80, 100A, and 104 the Marine Fisheries Commission has scheduled hearings on the following:

1) DMF will accept comments on emergency regulations (322 CMR 12.00) recently enacted to protect right whales regarding fixed fishing gear and certain proposed future gear restrictions to minimize risk of entanglement of right whales in Cape Cod Bay and other waters where large whales are known to occur. See DMF news for map of Critical Habitat.

A) For the period January 1 - May 15:

Prohibit gillnetting in Cape Cod Bay Critical Habitat. This closure will remain in place until gear modifications are developed, thoroughly tested, and approved to minimize risk of entanglement to large whales. Since little or no gillnetting currently occurs in this area during January-April, this closure has no immediate impact on the industry.

Modify fixed gear in Critical Habitat by setting all pots in strings of at least four pots; use all sinking line for buoy lines and groundlines, and modify buoy lines with yet-to-be approved breakaway specifications. Also, west of the Critical Habitat along the shores of Plymouth, Kingston, Duxbury, Marshfield, and Scituate (south of Humarock Beach), require sinking line on buoy lines and groundlines during Jan. 1 - May 15.

B) Surface gillnetting has been established as a regulated fishery, requiring fishermen to obtain a permit to employ this gear type.

C) Right whale buffer zone regulations were amended to improve disentanglement efforts. Vessel operators can remain within DMF's 500-yard buffer zone after reporting an entangled whale. Operators must notify Coast Guard or the Division of Law Enforcement when they observe an entanglement, and can stay near the entangled whale until told by enforcement officers or disentanglement teams that standing-by is no longer necessary. This change is expected to improve chances for disentanglement teams to locate any reported entangled whales.

D) For 1998 and beyond, DMF proposes to require year-round breakaway buoy lines and sinking line in buoy lines and groundlines in all state waters where large whales are expected to occur, including Massachusetts Bay and waters off Cape Ann. Also, DMF proposes for 1998 (and beyond) all fixed gear in Critical Habitat during Jan. 1 - May 15 be further modified with lightweight buoy lines that break when pulled by a swimming whale. DMF proposes to close Critical Habitat to all un-modified fixed gear during Jan. 1 - May 15 in the future.

E) DMF proposes gillnet breakaway gear modifications to be employed year-round in waters where large whales are expected to occur: Cape Cod Bay, Mass. Bay and waters off Cape Ann. The following proposed modifications are similar to those developed for the California fishery where fishermen tried to reduce entanglements with gray whales: install "weak links" between bridles on a set of nets along the top line only; use all sinking line (except on the headrope); use light line (5/16" or less) or «" polyfoam core line on the headrope; secure nets with anchors (instead of weights); and increase line length of bridles and the line between anchor and bridles both to 90 feet;

F) DMF proposes to limit the number of (300 ft.) sink gillnets allowed per fishermen to 80 and a maximum number of buoys deployed to 20. A similar net cap is being considered by the New England Fishery Management Council for federally permitted groundfish netters.

2) DMF proposals for striped bass management (322 CMR 6.07) . To prevent "high-grading", the practice of discarding of legal-sized smaller bass (dead) when anglers catch a larger one, it shall be unlawful for fishermen to discard dead legal-sized bass.

Recreational fishery: Proposal to lower the minimum size limit from 34" to 28" but with a continuation of the 1 fish bag limit. This drop in the minimum size would give recreational fishermen the opportunity to take bass at the same size limit currently enjoyed by anglers in all coastal fisheries from North Carolina north to Rhode Island, and is allowed by the ASMFC striped bass plan. The 1 fish limit is more conservative than the two fish daily limit allowed under the plan and that is currently in place in nearly all the aforementioned states.

Commercial fishery: Maintain the same commercial quota (750,000 lbs.) and minimum size limit (34") as seen during 1995-1996. DMF proposes changes for the commercial fishery that will amend the open and closed fishing periods. The objective of these proposals is to extend the season that product is available to the consuming public. Options include: A) Maintaining the 3-week on/1-week off schedule with additional closures to commercial bass fishing on July 4,5 and 6; B) Replacing the open/closed periods with new regulations that prohibit (commercial) fishing during Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each week during the open season; or C) Eliminating all no-fishing periods and instead establish a bag limit of 10 fish per licensed commercial angler.

3. DMF proposals affecting summer flounder (fluke) fisheries (322 CMR 6.22): DMF proposes an increase in the recreational minimum size from 14" to 14 «", an increase in the bag limit from 8 to 10 fish, and an elimination of the November 1 - May 14 closed season consistent with ASMFC proposed rules for 1997. Comments will be accepted on options for managing the commercial summer/fall fishery. Current regulations allow a 300 lb. trip limit beginning on June 17. Trip limits, opening date, and possible no-fishing day(s) (e.g. Saturday, Sunday) will be discussed.

4. DMF proposes to reduce the recreational tautog bag limit from 8 to 6 fish (322 CMR 8.06). Also the MFC proposes to reduce the commercial tautog bag limit from 50 to 40 fish.

5. To facilitate the monitoring of scup landings, DMF proposes to establish new regulations (322 CMR 6.26) that require a special commercial permit for fishermen landing scup. Also, dealers purchasing scup to report their purchases to DMF Statistics Program, as is currently done for summer flounder.

Three hearings have been scheduled:

  • Tuesday, March 25, at 7:00 p.m. at the Fuller School Auditorium in Gloucester ;
  • Wednesday, March 26 at the Mass. Maritime Academy Auditorium: Right Whale Conservation measures will be discussed at 3:00 p.m. All other issues will be discussed at 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 27 at 1:00 p.m. at Tisbury Town Hall.

Regulatory Update

During the period December - February, 1997 the following decisions were made by DMF and the Marine Fisheries Commission.

Contaminated Bait (soft-shelled clams) Permit no longer issued. This action was taken to address DMF's and the Division of Environmental Law Enforcement's increased concerns about unlawful consumption of contaminated soft-shelled clams, thereby threatening public health.
The contaminated bait permit allowed fishermen to harvest contaminated soft-shelled clams for bait purposes only. There were 19 designated bait areas, and those licensed fisherman chose one area only, which was listed on the permit. The harvest was for personal use (as bait) only, not for sale. Last year (1996), the Division issued 266 of these permits, 150 for Lynn Harbor.
Compliance with the no-sale and no-consumption restrictions had always been a problem. There was no way to determine the fate of clams after being removed from the flats. Over the last several years, as the number of fishermen licensed to take contaminated bait increased, concerns were raised that the clams were both consumed by the public and even sold unlawfully.

New regulations enacted that clarified lobster landing limits for fishermen using gear "other than pots or traps". These regulations were developed pursuant to Chapter 218 of the Acts of 1996 ("An Act Limiting the landing of Lobsters Taken By Dragging Apparatus") to clarify provisions of that statute. The statute, passed by the Legislature and Governor in July 1996, limited the number of lobsters that could be landed within a 24-hour trip (100) and a maximum limit (500) for an extended trip up to 7 days. These new regulations approved by the Commission clarify the limits. A 100 lobster limit is established for each day fishing up to a maximum of 500 lobsters for any trip five days or greater. A "day" is defined as each 24 hour period. (For example, a fishing trip greater than 24 hours but less than 48 hours shall constitute 2 days and a limit of 200 lobsters would apply.) A possession limit of 100 lobsters shall be applied to any vessel that cannot document sufficiently to the Division of Law Enforcement the length (in hours) of the trip.
To create a distinction between vessels taking lobsters by pots & traps and those taking lobsters by other methods, and to facilitate effective enforcement, any vessel rigged for netting (having doors and net aboard) will be subject to the limits. Furthermore, vessels rigged for gillnetting will be subjected to the limits if landing both fish and lobsters.
An exception to the possession limits was created to accommodate some fishermen who were unable to sell their lobsters after hours; (wholesale fish dealers often close down their businesses in the evening and reopen in the morning after the vessels has left the dock for another day's fishing.) Consequently, fishermen will be allowed to store their lobsters in " live cars", away from the vessel. Fishermen who wish to store lobsters in excess of 100 must notify the Division of Law Enforcement of their intent to car lobsters and the location of the holding cars. Also, they must not exceed more than 100 lobsters in possession for each day of fishing following notification, nor more than 500 lobsters at any one time; and finally they must provide accurate records of their daily fishing activities and amounts of lobster carred each day.

Fishermen are reminded of two regulations that were amended as of January 1, 1997:

Sea scallop dredge ring size increased to 3 1/2". The MFC approved this rule back in early 1996 but allowed fishermen the remainder of 1996 to make the transition. Any vessel with a federal scallop permit must adhere to federal rules when fishing in state waters, and the 3 1/2" federal requirement has been ineffect throughout 1996. No state waters exemptions are allowed.

Cod and haddock minimum sizes for recreational fishermen were increased from 20" to 21". This rule change was enacted to complement federal rules, amendment #7 of the federal groundfish plan. These increases in minimum size and bag limit of 10 fish (cod & haddock combined) are the conservation measures applied to the recreational fishery. The commercial fisheries are allowed to harvest cod and haddock as small as 19" but are limited by other restrictions such as closed areas, effort limits, and varying trip limits.

Legislative Update

The 1997-8 legislative officially began on January 1, 1997 bringing some new members to the Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee. Senator Lois Pines returns as the Senate Chair and we welcome long-term Committee member Representative Douglas Petersen as the new House Chair. Other members of the committee include: Senators Robert Antonioni (Senate Vice Chair), Marc Pacheco, Michael Morrissey, Robert Creedon and Bruce Tarr; as well as Representatives Eric Turkington (House Vice Chair), Thomas Kennedy, Pam Resor, Bill Straus, Mike Bellotti, Tony Verga, Michael Rodrigues, Theodore Speliotis, Tim Clark and George Peterson.

Director Phil Coates and Environmental Affairs Secretary Trudy Coxe recently testified before the Committee in strong support of H. 90, "the lobster scrubbing bill" which raises the penalties for taking egg-bearing lobsters. Under the proposed bill, fines for taking egg-bearing lobsters would be increased to $250-$1000 per lobster for a first offense. Subsequent offenses would result in $1000-$2000 fines per lobster or imprisonment from 90 days to one year, or both. Passage of H. 90 is a top priority of the Secretary, the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife & Environmental Law Enforcement and the Division of Marine Fisheries.

DMF also testified in favor or S. 1013 and S.1082, two similar bills which would allow DMF to promulgate regulations to permit the on-shore processing of shell-on frozen lobster tails by wholesale dealers. Hearing schedules are available through the Natural Resources Committee 617-722-2210. For information on these or other bills affecting marine fisheries contact Priscilla Geigis, Deputy General Counsel, DFWELE, 617-727-1614, ext. 388. Copies of bills may be obtained by sending a self- addressed stamped envelope to the Legislative Documents, Room 428, State House, Boston MA, 02133.

UPDATE is published quarterly to publicize regulatory matters affecting marine fisheries.
Director: Philip G. Coates, DMF
Commissioner: John C. Phillips, DFWELE
Secretary: Trudy Coxe, EOEA
Governor: William F. Weld
Editor: Daniel J. McKiernan, DMF / Art Dir.: David G. Gabriel, DFWELE