Citing threats to the endangered North Atlantic right whale, federal officials are invoking an emergency rule to ban lobster and crab fishermen from working in a vast area of Massachusetts Bay over the next three months.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday said the emergency rule, which was also deployed in 2022, means that trap and pot fishermen fishing federal waters in an area known as the Massachusetts Restricted Area Wedge must remove all their trap and pot gear, and may not reset trawls or set new trawls, from Feb. 1 to April 30.
NOAA said "fishing in that area "poses a particularly high risk of mortality or serious injury from entanglement in fishing gear" and that there is a "high likelihood of endangered right whales swimming in the area and in waters nearby.
The risk exists, officials said, when right whales are exiting Cape Cod Bay at the same time and place where fishermen are either fishing or staging their gear in preparation for the May 1 opening of federal waters in the Massachusetts Restricted Area.
NOAA said it was implementing the rule at the request of the state of Massachusetts.
The North Atlantic right whale has been in decline since 2010, according to NOAA, with the most recent published estimate of the population size in 2019 at 368 whales. That year, there were reportedly more males than females.
Data from 2020 and 2021 "suggest the decline has continued and that fewer than 350 individuals remain." NOAA attributed the decline to "high levels of human-caused mortality caused by entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes in both the U.S. and Canada."