NOAA 99R102
Contact: Teri Frady


Gloucester, Mass. — NOAA Fisheries is today proposing rules for lobstering in federal waters from Maine to North Carolina. The rules are intended to complement lobster management measures developed by the interstate commission that manages lobster fishing in state waters. Lobsters are overfished and at significant risk of sharp decline because of very high fishing pressure.

"We can't eliminate the risk of stock collapse with the management steps we take in federal waters alone," said Terry Garcia, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. "I believe that this proposal strengthens the state/federal partnership that is so essential to safeguarding the lobster fishery. This is the fastest way to move forward with devising measures to rebuild American lobster stocks."

The rules propose that federal managers adopt the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's approach to management, and that NOAA Fisheries implement in federal waters complementary measures to end overfishing and rebuild the lobster resource. The federal managers will utilize the industry management teams set up by the state commission to develop the necessary conservation measures.

The federal proposal links future management measures to rebuilding goals of both the commission's plan and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. In addition to the measures already in effect under federal and interstate rules, the proposed rules require the approximately 2,700 federal lobster trap permit holders to declare exclusively into near-shore areas or the offshore area, to abide by caps on the number of lobster traps, and to use trap tags. Federal permit holders will be limited to the more restrictive measures operative in state waters if they fish there. NOAA Fisheries would work closely with the commission to develop additional measures needed to meet the interstate plan's goals for ending overfishing and increasing egg production.

American lobsters support the Northeast Region's most valuable fishery, worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars in 1997, accounting for 27% of the region's total
fishery revenue. Eighty percent of those lobsters are harvested in state waters. Although the American lobster population has increased throughout its range in recent
years, the lobster brood stock, those larger and more productive egg-bearing females, has decreased. In addition, lobster fishing effort has increased significantly. Both the stocks and landings figures reflect a population with a large proportion of immature individuals. Scientific analyses, including those of a panel of internationally known lobster specialists convened to review the findings, show that the stocks are at high risk of a collapse.

In December 1997, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission amended its lobster plan for state waters and made recommendations for measures to be applied in both state and federal waters. "We worked with the commission for two years to develop the interstate plan. Now we're proposing to accept those recommendations, and expand on them to meet our responsibilities in the federal zone," Garcia said.

The public will have 30 days to comment on the proposal. Written comments on the proposed rules should be sent to Director, State, Federal & Constituent Programs Office, NOAA/NMFS/NERO, 1 Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

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