Apr 28, 2008

Why lobster drag fisheries are a bad idea.

When the introduction of fossil-fueled fishing boats made mobile bottom trawling of the Gulf of Maine possible in the 1870s, the US Fish Commission's first report to Congress warned against allowing "this evil" to be used here. The state of Maine shortly thereafter had to ban lobstering with dragger gear in her waters.

The ban still holds in Maine waters and with good reason. Check out some of these sequential images of two dragger hauls of lobster made near the mouth of Penobscot Bay a few years ago graphically illustrating how this method of fishing - still legal in Massachusetts and Federal waters - can cause easy overharvesting of these crustaceans. The catches were made lawfully as part of the twice-annual Maine/New Hampshire trawl survey

The survey is controversial among lobstermen who once drove the survey vessel off their fishing grounds off downeast Maine.

Big issue for them: about 12 percent of lobsters captured by dragger gear, then bounced along the rocky seafloor in the cod end, claws and spines puncturing each others bellies and faces, breaking each others legs, then dumped on board, die from their injuries.

Others, particularly young and new shell (newly moulted) lobsters, are crushed by the cables and trawl doors scraping the bottom while the gaping bag between then flips aboard those .

There are also culls (non-lethal claw amputations) among young and moulting lobsters caught up by draggers in their nets.

From the stand point of lobstermen, regulators, environmentalists and many researchers, dragging for lobsters is unacceptably damaging to the stocks.

It also captures older broodstock lobsters that cannot fit into traps, removing a large portion of that important age group from the lobster community.

DMR's response to public release of videotapes documenting the research trawl expeditions was to stop taking them, beginning in2002 -- a dreadful loss to scientific posterity and a stupid reaction to the good natured public jokery about some of the antics on the tapes by a PPH columnist who viewed a copy.

Public interest anger by Penobcot Bay Watch about censoring the tapes in late September 2001 wasmet with silence, then a Coop-Extension mediation meeting/encounter session with John Sowles, state Marine Ecologist, followed by more silence. Perhaps these people of the future will see things in these hours and hours of research trawl catch videos that we in our primitive early 21st century ignorance cannot.

Fluttering herring and flatfish accent the eruptions of startled lobsters from the net.

They are often joined by muscular young cod and hoary old barnacled lobster behemoths doing pratfalls down the squirming mass of their wild neighbors.

Sturgeon, sponges, the whole panoply of marine life along our shores is laid before the eye in undignified dishabille.

All are telling us something. We should be paying close attention. Not censoring the survey videos to protect an occasional epithet (horrors!) from one of the fishermen and scientists carrying out the elaborate trawl survey in all weathers.

Please re-start videorecording your trawl survey catches, Maine DMR!

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