NOAA 99-R164
Contact: Teri Frady


Gloucester, Mass.--NOAA Fisheries today announced rules for lobstering in northeastern waters that will more closely integrate federal and state fishery management plans into a comprehensive effort to end overfishing and rebuild egg production in this resource.

"This action represents a major step toward the cooperative management of the East Coast's most valuable commercial fishery, the lobster fishery, by bringing it under the federal and state partnership authority of the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act," said Penny Dalton, director of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.

"Our goal has always been to have one plan for the American lobster throughout its range," said Patricia Kurkul, NOAA Fisheries Northeast regional administrator. "We're not there yet, but the rules announced today allow a unified approach for strengthening the management and health of the resource," she said. In addition, she noted, "an ongoing evaluation process in the plan allows considerable flexibility for managing lobster, using measures devised largely by those who harvest lobsters."

The action is the result of two years of work by managers and the lobster industry to fashion a unified way to manage this diverse fishery. Lobsters are distributed across state waters' boundaries from North Carolina to Maine, as well as across state and federal boundaries.

Lobster fishing in state waters is managed under a plan developed through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), an interstate body that includes state, federal and industry representatives. Based on a plan agreed to through the ASMFC, states individually implement rules required to carry out the plans in their
waters. Over the past two years, new measures have been added to the interstate plan, and federal managers have conducted the public process required to establish complementary measures for federal waters.

This action also withdraws the federal fishery management council plan for lobsters, developed through the New England Fishery Management Council. That plan is replaced by these rules, which are implemented under the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act. The act provides authorities for state and federal managers to devise plans that will apply to fishing on stocks that span several legal jurisdictions.

Lobster fishing in federal waters will be managed under rules that are compatible with the interstate plan and consistent with federal standards for fishery management plans. As approximately 80 percent of the lobster fishery takes place in state waters, NOAA Fisheries will rely on the interstate plan development process for specific recommendations on changes in federal rules.

For example, guidelines for limiting an operation's effort based on its historical activity (in a particular area and/or with particular gear) have been recently approved by ASMFC for some fishing areas, following up on recommendations from industry advisory teams. On Sept. 1, NOAA Fisheries started the public process for evaluating such an approach for federal permit holders, a direct result of the interstate plan's development.

The most significant new features of the rules announced today include emphasis on managing lobster through a state/federal partnership; incorporating the management areas defined by the current interstate lobster management plan, as well as its use of industry advisory teams for developing measures for each area; requiring declaration into areas annually; and specific trap limits for 1999 and 2000. All measures are subject to adjustment in order to meet the stock rebuilding goals and to respond to changes in the lobster stock.

Area declaration means that federal permit holders will now annually declare into each of the seven lobster areas where they intend to fish. Federal permit holders can fish in any or all areas where they qualify, but will have to abide by the most restrictive of the rules that apply in any one of the areas, no matter where they fish.

There are also trap limits. In nearshore areas, each operation is limited to 1000 traps in fishing year 1999 and 800 traps in the fishing year 2000. In offshore areas, operations are limited to 2000 traps in fishing year 1999 and no more than 1800 traps in fishing year 2000.

The full text of the final rule was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 6, 1999. A press guide to the final rule is available at the NOAA Fisheries Press Release Web site .