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 16 Fourth Quarter October - December 1996

Table of Contents

  1. Court Orders Additional Right Whale Protection Measures
  2. Tracking the Bluefin Tuna: Scientistists Team up with Fishermen
  3. Great White Shark Landed in Beverly
  4. Photo Opportunity
  5. New Whiting Net Breathes Life into Provincetown
  6. Massachusetts hosts ASMFC Annual Meeting
  7. European Oysters on the North Shore
  8. Comings and Goings at DMF
  9. Rules Update, includes Public Hearing notices and Regulatory & Legislative Updates

Court Orders Additional Right Whale Protection Measures

On September 24, 1996 Judge Douglas Woodlock of the Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued a preliminary injunction in the case Strahan v. Coxe, et al. The injunction ordered the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to: (1) apply to the National Marine Fisheries Service for an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act and a small take authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for the northern right whale in Massachusetts waters; (2) develop a proposal to be submitted to the Court by December 16, 1996 to "restrict, modify or eliminate" the use of fixed fishing gear in coastal waters of Massachusetts listed as critical habitat for Northern Right Whales; and (3) convene an "Endangered Whale Working Group" to engage in substantive discussions with the Plaintiff, or his representative, as well as other interested parties, regarding modifications of fixed fishing gear and other measures to minimize actual harm to Northern Right whales." 

The Court based the injunction on its finding that "the permitting of fixed fishing gear by the Defendants [DMF] results in a harmful taking of endangered whales through the modification of their habitat." The Court found this to be a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Attorney General's Office has appealed the decision but meanwhile DMF has complied with the Judge's order and applied to the National Marine Fisheries Service for the ordered permits and authorizations. Also the Court-approved Working Group has already convened. This team was able to "hit the ground running" on November 5 since 7 of the 10 members are already involved with other concurrent efforts to protect right whales, notably the Large Whale Take Reduction Team established by NMFS in September, 1996.

Judge Woodlock ordered this group to convene as quickly as possible to draft the proposals that would affect lobster pot fishing and gillnetting. Judge Woodlock approved the membership of the group which includes:

Daniel McKiernan* _ DMF Fisheries Biologist
Dr. Charles "Stormy" Mayo* _ Researcher, Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown
Dr. Scott Kraus* _ Researcher, N. E. Aquarium
Dr. Eleanor Dorsey* _ Conservation Law Foundation
William Adler* _ Mass. Lobstermen's Assoc.
Bob MacKinnon* _ Mass. Gillnetters Assoc.
Sharon Young* _ U.S. Humane Society
Dr. Tom French _ Director of the Mass. Natural Heritage Program
James McCaffrey _ Sierra Club
Dr. Les Kaufman _ Boston University
and/or Robert Stevenson _ U. Mass., Boston
* Denotes member of the Large Whale Take Reduction Team

Specific recommendations to minimize entanglements, if finalized by the Working Group in time, will be presented at the scheduled December 2 and 3 Marine Fisheries Commission public hearings. The Group has focused on possible area/time closures, "breakaway" fishing gear, and the development of a cooperative surveillance program to notify researchers. Director Phil Coates and the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Commission plan to enact rules in time for the February 1997 expected arrival of right whales in Cape Cod Bay. See Rules Update. For more information contact Dan McKiernan at DMF's Boston Office.


Tracking the Bluefin Tuna: Scientists team up with fishermen

In September and October, DMF biologists Brad Chase and Greg Skomal participated in successful tagging and ultrasonic tracking of bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Maine. The project was a unique and exciting collaboration of Massachusetts fishermen and scientists from the New England Aquarium, University of Hawaii, and DMF. Funding was provided by the National Geographic Society and the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

Hydro-acoustic transmitters were applied to free-swimming bluefin using a harpoon tagging method. Tagged bluefin were followed for up to 48 hours on a vessel equipped with a signal receiving hydrophone that allowed determination of tuna depth and position.

The tracking project will provide valuable information about the following: movements and daily behavior of bluefin on New England grounds relative to conditions, behavior that can be related to the findings of the ongoing New England Aquarium areal survey, and "normal" behavior of free-swimming tuna for comparison to post-release behavior of bluefin stressed by rod-and-reel capture.

The cornerstone of this project was expertise provided by cooperating commercial fishermen. Spotter plane pilot John Betzner located schools of tuna from the air and directed Captain Bill Chaprales to fish where he applied tags with a modified harpoon pole. Captain Jeff Tutein operated a second vessel that followed tagged tuna.

Captain Chaprales developed the harpoon attachment method during 1995 while working east of Chatham with Chase and Skomal. At that time, one bluefin was tracked after being tagged with the harpoon method ("stress-free track"), and one was tracked after rod and reel capture ("stress track"). The success of this venture carried over into this 1996 collaborative effort with a partnership of the above crew and Molly Lutcavage and Jennifer Goldstein of the Aquarium, and Rich Brill of the University of Hawaii.

Five bluefin were tracked in 1996: three in the vicinity of Stellwagen Bank and two east of Chatham. Extensive movements were documented (up to 65 nautical miles within 30 hours). There were dramatic dives to the bottom and distinct day/night patterns. Data are being analyzed, and a report will be available in 1997.

These tracks will contribute greatly to ongoing DMF study on stress physiology and post-release survivorship of large pelagics. To date, DMF has participated in 6 "stress-free tracks" and 3 "stress tracks" of bluefin tuna. More of the latter will be conducted in 1997 off Hatteras, North Carolina and Massachusetts. Giant bluefin tuna don't readily surrender their secrets, but the tracking project provides scientists with a glimpse of the daily habits of one of the ocean's top predators. This project is also an example of the fishing industry and scientists working together to come up with results that exceed the capabilities of one component working alone. We hope to see more of this teamwork, especially in this fishery where locking horns has been typical behavior.

For more information contact Brad Chase and Greg Skomal


Great White Shark Landed in Beverly

In a summer that had its share of unusual weather and fishing, the catch that perhaps made the biggest splash was the 18 foot Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) that was brought into Beverly Harbor on August 18th. It has been a strange year for sharks off Massachusetts. This great white capped off a summer that included catches of sand tiger sharks in both Salem Harbor and Hingham Bay and a world record blue shark caught off Martha's Vineyard. 

This remarkable shark was landed by Richard and Michael Birarelli on the Jean B. after finding it entangled in their dogfish gillnet about 10 miles outside of Salem Sound. Presumably, it was caught accidentally and "drowned" because it was unable to swim freely and respire. Biologists from DMF's Cat Cove Marine Laboratory identified the shark based on its pointed dorsal fin, mottled gray and white coloration, widely spaced triangular teeth, and above all, large size. Landing a great white of this size in the western North Atlantic is highly unusual.

Recognizing the opportunity to collect valuable biological samples, the crew of the Jean B. allowed DMF biologists to dissect the shark. The National Marine Fisheries Service Apex Predator and DMF's Shark Research Programs provided sampling instructions. Biological samples have been collected from fewer than 10 adult white sharks in the western North Atlantic.

DMF's biologists disassembled the huge shark in front of hundreds of onlookers. Camera crews and journalists from many local TV networks and newspapers came by to publicize this unusual event. Examination of the white shark's stomach may have been the crowd's favorite. A 31 pound harbor porpoise, remains of two dogfish, and a rock crab were in the stomach.

Based on fin and body measurements, this 18 foot shark weighed at least 2,500 pounds and was probably the largest female ever sampled in this region.This female's reproductive organs were saved for NMFS shark biologists to determine maturity and reproductive condition. This species is believed to mature at 16 feet. Age is difficult to determine in sharks, but preliminary estimates for this species would place her at about 18 years old. In addition to vertebrae used for age analyses, white and red muscle were saved for genetic analysis; the heart was saved for anatomical and parasite inspection.

White sharks probably visit the Gulf of Maine each year making the trip to areas with an abundant food source _ marine mammals. Nevertheless, landings in Massachusetts Bay are extremely rare. For example, data from DMF's shark tournament sampling program show that of 3,700 sharks reported since 1987, not a single white shark has been captured by recreational tournament fishermen.

To better understand the abundance and ecology of sharks off Massachusetts, since 1987, DMF's Shark Research Program has conducted field work and cooperative research with other agencies such as the NMFS Apex Predator Program. Also, seminars on the ecology, exploitation, and ongoing studies of New England sharks are routinely presented throughout the Commonwealth. Commercial and recreational fishermen who encounter unusual sharks, like the great white, are encouraged to contact DMF so we may learn more about the biology of sharks in our waters.

This magnificent great white provided unique biological data. Furthermore, the many children who buzzed around E Dock that afternoon gained lasting memories. The Birarellis and other fishermen of E Dock who helped out should be credited with the type of cooperation that leads to better fisheries management.

by Brad Chase, Rusty Iwanowicz, and Greg Skomal


Photo Opportunity

The Sportfisheries Program is compiling the 1997 Massachusetts Saltwater Fishing Guide that describes where and how you can enjoy fishing for a wide variety of fish along our shores. The guide contains illustrations and descriptions of each species including the recreational fishing regulations and state derby records. 

We invite you to donate one or more photos of your fishing experiences. These will be headers for the Guide's sections listing access sites, bait & tackle shops, and party/charter boats sections within the guide. There are also the front and back cover photographs to consider.

Photos should be 4x6" or 5x7" prints in black & white or color. Prints chosen for the Guide will not be returned. However, you will be recognized with your name printed alongside your photo. If interested, please send your photographs to:

Karen Rypka, Sportfisheries Program
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
100 Cambridge Street, 19th Floor, Boston, MA 02202


New Whiting Net Breathes Life into Provincetown

When the 1995 groundfish conservation rules clamped down on small-mesh trawl fisheries with high by-catch and discards, the port of Provincetown took the biggest hit. Historically, Provincetown has depended on catches of whiting, red hake, and dogfish: three species still fairly abundant but caught with small-mesh nets. When analyses showed these small-mesh species were caught with unacceptably high levels of juvenile flounders (discarded dead), these fisheries off Cape Cod were closed - an action coming as no surprise to DMF. 

Since 1989, DMF's Conservation Engineering Program has been busy designing a net that would fish "clean" of troublesome bycatch. Since 1992, DMF sea samplers have documented catch levels in these fisheries and have tried to convince fishermen to reduce their bycatch through area closures and incremental modifications to trawls. But with more liberal regulations in federal waters, we could hardly get the attention of fishermen who traveled north to those waters for "business as usual" fishing. This changed, however, when the curtain fell in 1995. Federal regulations banned all small-mesh trawling in areas where regulated species exceeded 5% of total catch. All small-mesh fisheries were considered "dirty" unless proven "clean."

Last fall, Provincetown lost its lucrative whiting fishery (see graph). In response, DMF biologists sought a Provincetown fisherman to experiment with a "raised footrope trawl," a net designed to catch whiting, hake, and dogfish while passing over species that live close to or on the bottom such as flounders and lobster. We found an able volunteer: Henry Souza, captain and co-owner of the fishing vessel Charlotte G., a 44 year-old side trawler.

With a can-do attitude and a DMF biologist on his vessel for every trip, Captain Souza experimented with the net design during six trips last fall and over 20 trips this past summer. We settled on a single design that succeeded catching profitable amounts of whiting and hake with minimal bycatch _ well below the mandated 5% level. In September, this "experimental fishery" project was approved for additional vessels by the National Marine Fisheries Service Regional Office in Gloucester and Washington.

Captain Souza and DMF gear expert Arne Carr drew up trawl specifications, and each participating fisherman rebuilt his trawl with Captain Souza's guidance. To obtain a permit, each vessel was mandated to carry DMF observers to prove the net performed properly, and then each was free to fish with occasional observer coverage.

A long list of restrictions were attached to the permits, such as net specifications, catch reporting rules, and areas allowed for fishing. But the most innovative rule was the list of prohibited species. In addition to the 'regulated' ten traditional groundfish species (e.g. flounders, cod, haddock, and pollock), fishermen were prohibited from landing other species that shouldn't be caught in the net with the net fishing as designed - off the bottom. These included lobster (illegal to take in state waters), crabs, monkfish, ocean pout, skate, sculpin, and sea raven.

Some of these species have no market value. Nevertheless, we wanted to send a clear message about fishing responsibly. These prohibited species have been documented in catches when trawls fish "hard on the bottom," but have never been prohibited in other whiting and hake fisheries.

The fishery has proved quite successful with large catches of whiting and red hake reminding many along MacMillan Wharf in Provincetown of the "good old days" when whiting landings averaged over 1 million lbs. The fishery is expected to wane in November when whiting and hake migrate offshore in response to dropping water temperatures. DMF plans to work with federal officials to re-establish these fisheries in Cape Cod Bay and in other areas wherever by-catch problems can be resolved. A complete report will be available at year's end.

by Dan McKiernan and Arne Carr


Massachusetts hosts ASMFC Annual Meeting

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission 55th annual meeting was held in Hyannis from October 20-24. The Commission, formed by 15 states from Maine through Florida in 1942, assists the management and conservation of shared coastal fishery resources and works cooperatively with the federal government in five major policy arenas: interstate fisheries management; research and statistics; habitat conservation; sport fish restoration; and law enforcement. 

Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Trudy Coxe, welcomed the Commission to Massachusetts. After describing her great interest and commitment to fisheries and their management, she encouraged ASMFC to follow Massachusetts' lead on a number of issues, especially three: (1) greater protection of the northern right whale that migrates along the Atlantic coast from Florida to the Bay of Fundy; (2) increased protection of female berried lobsters by use of a recently developed, effective law enforcement technique to detect scrubbing; and (3) further development of fishing gear that reduces by-catch--gear such as that developed by DMF in cooperation with Provincetown fishermen to allow seasonal fishing for whiting in Cape Cod Bay.

Representative Gerry E. Studds was presented with the ASMFC "Chairman's Award for Distinguished Meritorious Service." ASMFC chairman Gordon C. Colvin of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation stated:

"For 24 years, Representative Gerry E. Studds has ably represented in Congress not only the Massachusetts 10th District but the interests of all citizens who value and care for the Nation's valuable living marine resources. He has courageously led the fight for effective conservation and management of marine fishery resources, marine mammals and endangered species; all the while protecting the cherished privileges of commercial and recreational fishermen everywhere to pursue productive, satisfying and profitable fishing. Mr. Studds has strongly supported the role of the states in mutually cooperative partnership with the federal government. His leadership on the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act, known commonly as the "Studds Act," led to the recovery of a resource cherished in his home New England area and all along the coast; and set a standard for state and federal fishery conservation and management efforts everywhere. He has always been sensitive to the real needs of people in caring for their marine resources. ASMFC gratefully acknowledges his spirit and commitment as an example of outstanding leadership in Congress, and among all who recognize the importance of the seas and their bounty."

Another award was given at this meeting. Philip G. Coates, DMF's Director, was presented with the David H. Hart Award given to individuals who have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the betterment of marine fisheries management. David Hart, from New Jersey, was a well-respected, longtime ASMFC member and a chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. 

The fifth recipient of this award, Phil was honored for his dedication to ASMFC and effective interstate fisheries management. He has served as chairman of ASMFC and has been chairman of the ASMFC Striped Management Board. His award (shown in the photo) was certainly appropriate because Phil has played a major role in the full restoration of striped bass along the Atlantic coast. With his family present, Phil accepted the award, thanked ASMFC and DMF staff for all their support, and reminded everyone of the challenges to come. Congratulations Phil!

by David Pierce


European Oysters: Harmful invader or potential new fishery on the North Shore?

The European Oyster, Ostrea edulis, has joined the ranks of abundant shellfish species in Salem Sound on the North Shore of Massachusetts. In fact, the oyster population in Salem Sound has become so large that the public has become aware of the resource and is harvesting it. As a consequence, interesting questions have been raised for DMF's fisheries managers and shellfish biologists. What is the oyster's origin and why have they become so successful? Is the population harmful or beneficial? Is there the potential for a new fishery? What are the public health and law enforcement issues? 

The oyster population has increased dramatically throughout the Salem Sound area in Salem, Marblehead, Beverly, and Manchester. It is now well established. The biomass now present in Salem Sound is astounding, and the hardy bivalve is starting to look like a permanent resident. DMF biologists first noticed Ostrea in Salem Harbor in 1987 and found these oysters at the Cat Cove Marine Laboratory in 1988. Raymond Bates, a local scuba expert, has observed this non-indigenous species in other areas of Salem Harbor since the late 1980's as well.

Isolated individuals or small populations also have been recently located to the north in Gloucester, Essex and Ipswich. DMF biologists found European oyster shells in Quincy Bay in 1996, but little evidence of live oysters has been found in Quincy or elsewhere in Boston Harbor and Broad Sound. It also has been found in various locations on Cape Cod in the last two years and from Duxbury Bay the past three years.

The European oyster is native to waters of the Atlantic coast between Spain and Norway and is considered a delicacy in Europe where it supports a major fishery. Unlike the native American oyster, Crassostrea virginica, which prefers warmer, low salinity water in estuaries, the European oyster inhabits cooler, high salinity water. The North Shore environment, therefore, appears to be an ideal oyster habitat for the oysters and likely explains the rapid proliferation of the population. But where did they come from?

There are some possible explanations. Oysters may have slowly spread down the coast to Salem Sound from other populations to the north in Maine. Because American oysters are uncommon in Gulf of Maine cooler waters, the Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries imported European seed stock from the Netherlands in the 1950's to establish fishable oyster populations along the Maine coast. Some oysters died out in some areas but proliferated in others. Today, European oysters have gained a stronghold in Casco Bay, and at times they support a small fishery. This oyster also is a favorite of Maine aquaculturists.

Therefore, with a 12-14 day larval period, it is possible that some larvae spawned in Maine could have found their way to Massachusetts via coastal currents in the much the same way that the "red tide" organism, the dinoflagellate Alexandrium, spread southward to Massachusetts.

On the other hand, perhaps Sea Plantations, a private research and consulting company on the shore of Salem Harbor, allowed oyster spat to escape into the Harbor in the 1980's during oyster experiments. This is a more likely explanation because the oyster population appears to have started in Salem Harbor and proliferated from there.

It is also possible that the oysters spread from live oysters disposed in the area by individuals and/or seafood dealers. Furthermore, misguided plantings or disposal into the wild also could be a factor since European oysters were widely available in the seafood trade long before they began to appear in the wild in Massachusetts. An isolated population under a bridge in Duxbury is believed to have started in this way. It is unlikely that the oysters have spread from any of the aquaculture sites where they were planted in Massachusetts since no evidence of spawning or natural settings exists in the vicinity of these operations.

Unfortunately, the majority of oysters are located within Salem Sound -- a prohibited shellfishing area. Utilization of this resource would require a reclassification of the area to allow shellfishing. But, Salem Sound water quality has improved recently, and if current local efforts to eliminate sources of pollution continue, a new fishery might be possible.

Salem Sound appears to be an ideal environment for European oysters. They are located on hard bottom areas from the low tide line to depths of 20 feet. Their growth rate is phenomenal, attaining diameters of 4-5 inches in just two seasons. In Marblehead Harbor, boaters find 3-inch oysters on their mooring lines in just one season!

In addition to being in an ideal physical environment, a unique survival strategy has probably contributed to the rapid proliferation of the oysters in the Salem Sound area as well. Unlike most native bivalve mollusks which reproduce externally in the water column, European oysters actually fertilize their eggs internally, and development occurs inside the female providing a tremendous population growth rate advantage.

It is too early to make conclusions about impacts of this new arrival to our waters. Important questions remain about the ecological role of the European oyster in its new-found habitat. For example, little is known about competitive interactions between the European oyster and other native bivalves, such as the American oyster.

Nevertheless, for now, this introduction serves as a reminder that non-indigenous organisms have the potential to cause ecological disruptions and reduce biodiversity. This reminder is especially relevant because the Commonwealth is entering a period of increased interest in aquaculture. Years ago, introduced species most often occurred during migrations of humans across the seas and continents. The problem of exotic species introductions has become more complicated for resource managers; economic incentives for aquaculture have grown.

While most introduced species usually have a devastating impact on the native fauna, European oysters may have taken over a niche currently unoccupied by native mollusk species. If this introduction does indeed turn out to be benign and water quality improves enough to allow shellfishing, an important new fishery potential exists.

Although European oysters, when eaten raw on the half shell, are not very popular in this country due to their strong flavor, removal of the gills improves their flavor considerably making them comparable in flavor to our native oysters. When cooked, European oysters lose their strong flavor and are comparable, or even more desirable, than American oysters.

by Wayne Castonguay and Brad Chase, with contributions by Michael Hickey


Comings and Goings...

Cat Cove Marine Lab relocates to Gloucester

On October 28, 1996 DMF relocated its North Shore programs and staff from Cat Cove Marine Laboratory in Salem to the former federal seafood technology laboratory at 30 Emerson Avenue in Gloucester. Ownership of the federal facility is currently being transferred to the Division as a result of federal legislation passed in 1996 through the efforts of Congressman Torkildsen. 

The new facility is comprised of a main laboratory and office building, a small bacteriological laboratory, hazardous waste building, storage facility, and maintenance building. The main laboratory and office space have been newly painted and carpeted and provide much needed increased space for the Division's needs and future expansion.

Approximately 25 staff will be housed at the facility in the near future. Presently 5 laboratory staff remain at Cat Cove in Salem, and they will later join their colleagues at the new facility recently named by Commissioner Phillips as the "Annisquam River Marine Fisheries Station." North Shore functions at the new facility will include recreational fisheries programs, statistics, shellfish classification, paralytic shellfish poisoning program, economics, lobster and finfish sea sampling, and eventually, the analytical chemistry function.

The new address is:
Annisquam River
Marine Fisheries Station
30 Emerson Avenue
Gloucester, MA 01930

The phone numbers are:
(508) 281-9458
(617) 727-3958
(617) 727-1306
Fax:(617) 727-3337

Noreen Whitaker, Administrative Assistant to Director Phil Coates, has left DMF for a position at the Office of Coastal Zone Management. Noreen served DMF for four years and performed a variety of tasks for the Boston office staff, including the distribution of DMF News, Sportfishing Guide, and scheduling of all Marine Fisheries Commission meetings and hearings. CZM's gain is clearly our loss. We wish her lots of success in her new endeavor, and thank her for her dedication to DMF and our constituents.

Jessica Harris, biologist on the Conservation Engineering Project left DMF to accept a teaching position at the Westport Watershed Alliance. Henry Milliken joined the project. Henry comes with 5 years of experience in the University of Rhode Island Fisheries Program.

Bob Glenn, joined the Coastal Lobster Investigations Project. Bob had worked briefly for DMF last summer after completing his Master of Science degree from UMASS Dartmouth studying the sea raven.

Last spring we welcomed three new sea samplers aboard: Rob Johnston, Bill Hoffman and Holly Yachmetz. Rob worked for the NMFS sea sampling program, Bill worked as a sampler for the Manomet Bird Observatory, and Holly brings sea sampling experience from the west coast tuna fisheries. Former sea sampler Jeremy King was promoted to the Resource Assessment Project.

Dr. Xi He, from the University of Hawaii, joined the Sportfisheries Program and is studying striped bass spawning stock biomass trends and projections.


DMF NEWS

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 8/96-$2250

Division of Marine Fisheries
100 Cambridge Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02202


Rules UPDATE

Public Hearings / Regulations / Legislation 

Volume 6 Number 4

Table of Contents for Rules Update

Notice of Public Hearings Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Commission Public Hearings Scheduled for December 2 and 3, 1996

Under the provisions of G.L. c 30A and pursuant to the authority found in G.L. c 130, ss. 2, 17A, 80, 100A, and 104, the Marine Fisheries Commission has scheduled two hearings to discuss the following:

1) DMF proposal to amend 322 CMR 7.01(4)(b) Contaminated Bait (soft-shelled clams) to eliminate any future issuance of the so-called "bait permits" to take contaminated soft-shelled clams for bait purposes, after 1996. This proposal seeks to address DMF's and the Division of Environmental Law Enforcement's increased concerns about unlawful consumption of these clams threatening public health.

The contaminated bait permit allows fishermen to harvest contaminated soft-shelled clams for bait purposes only. There are 19 designated bait areas, and the licensed fisherman may choose one area only, which is listed on the permit. The harvest is for personal use only, not for sale, and the licensee is limited to one 12 quart pail per week. In 1996 the Division issued 266 of these permits, 150 for Lynn Harbor.

Compliance with the no-sale and no-consumption restrictions has always been a problem, since there is no way to determine the fate of clams after they're 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 being sold, and some such cases have been detected by the Division of Law Enforcement. Following the recently publicized enforcement operation by state and federal officers, the extent of the illegal operations became more obvious, and the public health risk is unacceptable.

DMF has taken immediate steps to reduce this risk by closing Lynn Harbor area to all bait digging. However a more effective and practical means to protect public health will be to eliminate the permit.

2) DMF proposal to implement a comprehensive program to protect Northern right whales in critical habitat within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If completed in time, proposals from the recent court-ordered Right Whale Working Group will be presented at hearings.

A) All permits issued by the Division of Marine Fisheries to fishermen using gear capable of entangling Northern right whales would be conditioned to reduce or eliminate the risk of entanglement.

B) Specific measures proposed as alternatives to minimize entanglement include closures to fixed gear in areas and times of known concentrations of right whales; and/or modifications to fishing gear to reduce risk of entanglement; and development of an intensified cooperative surveillance and reporting program to track Northern right whales to facilitate research and disentanglement if it occurs.

3) Develop regulations 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. This law now limits the landing of lobsters by gear types "other than pots and traps". To support the statute and clarify certain provisions the following is proposed:

A) Clarify the language in the statute relating to the number of lobsters that can be landed after one 24-hour day and within 7 days. DMF proposes to establish a 100 lobster per day landing possession limit to a maximum of 500 lobsters for any trip five days or greater. A "day" will be 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.

B) To create a distinction between vessels taking lobsters by pots & traps and those taking lobsters by other methods, and to facilitate effective enforcement, DMF proposes to make it "unlawful for any vessel rigged for commercial netting to exceed the lobster landings as noted above (100 per day, not to exceed 500 for any trip 5 days or longer). "Rigged for netting" for any trawler means having a trawl net and doors aboard, and for any gillnetter means outfitted with a net hauler.

4) Interstate Lobster Management will be discussed. The ASMFC Public Information Document (PID) for Lobster Management (Amendment 3 to the Fishery Management Plan for American lobster) will be available and comments accepted. ASMFC, in an October 21 news release, stated that the PID "provides the fishing and general public with a chance to provide input while Amendment 3 is still a 'blank sheet'." This new amendment signals a shift in primary responsibility for lobster management from the New England Fishery Management Council to the Atlantic Coastal States through ASMFC.

ASMFC intends to have a draft of Amendment #3 ready for April 1997 public hearings. ASMFC approval of the Amendment is scheduled for ASMFC's 1997 Annual Meeting in the fall.

Two hearings have been scheduled:
Monday, December 2, 1996 at 7:00 p.m. at Mass Maritime Academy, Buzzards Bay; and
Tuesday, December 3, 1996 at 7:00 p.m. at the Fuller School off Blackburn Circle in Gloucester.


Regulatory UPDATE

During the period September - November the following decisions were made by DMF and the Marine Fisheries Commission. 

Northern Shrimp Season Rules Approved The ASMFC Northern Shrimp Section met on Oct. 29 approved rules for 1996-97, and these were later approved by the Commission. This upcoming season will be similar in length to last years lasting December through May, but instead of Sunday being a mandatory no-fishing day, blocks of time were adopted as an alternative strategy were accepted. These no-fishing blocks will be Dec. 24-28; January 27-31; Feb 17-20; March 24-27; April 21-24;, and the season will end on May 27. Any vessel landing norther shrimp in Massachusetts ports must possess a Massachusetts regulated fishery permit. Contact Kevin Creighton at xt. 377.

Sea herring spawning closure regulations amended (322 CMR 9.00) to allow herring caught in waters outside the Gulf of Maine (e.g. from Georges Bank or Southern New England) to be landed in Massachusetts during the three week October spawning closure. The sea herring spawning closure dates back to 1983 when DMF enacted the closure in concert with Maine and New Hampshire to protect spawning herring in the Gulf of Maine.

Coastal Access Permits to fish mobile gear in state waters granted to certain old, aging vessels that are at least 50 years old and held a Coastal Access Permit in 1994. Furthermore these vessels must provide evidence of fishing in state waters during 1989-1992. Some of the oldest vessels in the fleet were excluded from state waters by the 72 ft. maximum vessel length regulation enacted in 1995. By virtue of their age these vessels typically have lower fishing power than other newer vessels of similar length.

Monkfish tail length defined for enforcement purposes. The monkfish tail minimum size regulation was clarified as the distance from the anterior portion of the fourth cephalic spine to the end of the caudal fin. This spine is the first, short, slender spine of the first dorsal fin following the three isolated head spines. Therefore, for enforcement purposes, the tail begins at the forward part of the first dorsal fin (fin with webbing).

New definition: Monkfish tail means the distance between the first, short, slender spine of the first dorsal fin (fin with webbing following the three separated head spines) to the end of the tail. This new definition of tail length was needed since many fishermen had opted to cut the tail very liberally by including a piece if the head to make the tail conform to the minimum size standard.

Also regulations were enacted that limits the landing of monkfish livers: the weight of all monkfish livers shall not exceed 10% of the weight of whole monkfish on board; (2) the weight of all monkfish livers shall not exceed 25% of the weight of all monkfish tails on board; and (3) monkfish must be landed as either tails and/or whole fish. These rules on livers addresses concerns that livers were being taken from undersized fish.

DMF Still Objects to Proposed Scup Quota Plan

DMF is commenting on the Regulatory Amendment to the Fishery Management Plan for the scup fishery. We encourage everyone affected by the Amendment to voice an opinion with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Gloucester. We continue to protest this amendment that fails to equitably distribute a coastwide quota between coastal states, especially to Massachusetts. We already have registered our opposition to this Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council/Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan and amendment with its approach that unfairly and inappropriately penalizes Massachusetts scup fishermen and dealers for discards that occur in other fisheries, areas, and times. Next year marks the first year of quota management for scup. Quotas are reduced by subtracting expected discards off the top. 

We still consider the amendment to be the consequence of an ill-advised quota management approach because much of the scup discarding occurs elsewhere during small-mesh fishing for other species such as squid and whiting. Therefore, the task of equitably distributing a coastwide quota becomes impossible since the quota always will be low due to this discarding that is unavoidable in the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England mixed trawl fishery. Overfishing that has reduced scup to historical low levels forcing a low quota for 1997 was not the consequence of Massachusetts fishermen already restricted by DMF regulations (e.g., night closure to mobile gear fishing).

Another of our major objections to the Scup Plan and its Amendment is the 7-year fishing mortality rate reduction schedule with year 2 being 1997. Exploitation rate (percent of fish removed each year due to fishing) is to be cut from the current 69% to 19% in year 7 (2002). Because Massachusetts commercial landings from May through October probably were as high as 2 million lbs. or more in recent years, in actuality, the proposed May-October Massachusetts' quota of about 360,000 lbs. forces Massachusetts to reach (or perhaps surpass) the seventh year fishing mortality target in just one year! We can only imagine how low this quota will fall in the future with the step-down reduction in exploitation through 2002. Our problem lies with inaccurate records of scup landings in Massachusetts during the 1988-1992 period chosen as the basis for determining quota shares. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, average Massachusetts 1988-1992 scup landings from May-October were about 811,000 lbs.

Fortunately, states have been given time to revisit the landings record and change the numbers provided convincing cases can be made for "corrections." DMF is working with dealers to obtain more accurate records of actual landings by the scup commercial fishery-- landings never recorded by NMFS or DMF. Unless we can provide a better record of actual landings, an early closure of the Massachusetts inshore fishery will be a real possibility.


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