State waters remain closed to lobstermen

NOAA Fisheries/Courtesy photo/NOAA takes aerial photos like this of a right whale and her calf to identify individuals. The pattern of calluses on the head of an adult right whale is unique to that animal. The North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog now includes more than 1 million images.

The state Division of Marine Fisheries is reminding lobstermen and other trap fishermen that state waters north and east of Cape Cod remain closed to all commercial harvesting because of the continued presence of North Atlantic right whales.

DMF and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies continue to fly aerial survey flights to gauge the scale of right whale presence in state waters as the imperiled stock continues its northward feeding migration.

The agency said its most recent flight, on April 28, 2021, observed 86 right whales in the waters of northern Cape Cod Bay, southern Massachusetts Bay, and Stellwagen Bank, a fishing ground located about 15 miles southeast of Gloucester to about six miles north of Provincetown.

“Additional surveillance flights are anticipated to occur over the next several days,” DMF stated. “DMF will reevaluate the status of this closure based on the presence or absence of whales. Should observational data demonstrate right whales have migrated out of Massachusetts waters, DMF may lift the trap gear closure prior to May 15.”

Also, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's Slocum underwater glider on Sunday acoustically detected the presence of North Atlantic right whales north of Cape Cod and NOAA Fisheries on Monday instituted a voluntary right whale slow zone north of Cape Cod until May 17.

The coordinates encompassing the zone are 42°40' north longitude, 42°00' north longitude, 069°40 west longitude and 070°34 west longitude. The agency requests that vessels chart courses around the zone or transit through at 10 knots or less. 

The closure of state waters to all commercial trap fishing is a key element in an enhanced state protection plan for the right whales, whose population heading into 2021 was estimated at about 365. The trap gear closure is designed to prevent endangered right whales from becoming entangled in trap gear.

The agency also extended vessel speed restrictions in Cape Cod Bay until May 15.

“This requires all vessels less than 65 feet overall length operate at a speed of 10 knots or less in those waters of Cape Cod Bay south of 42°08’ north longitude and those waters north of Cape Cod west of 70°10’ west longitude,” DMF stated. “Similar to the trap gear closure, this speed limit rule will be reevaluated in real time in response to presence or absence of right whales. This rule is designed to prevent small vessel ship strikes involving these endangered whales.”

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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