Humane Society Criticizes Harbor Porpoise Closure Decision
September 26, 2012-- Ed. Note: The release from the Humane Society states that there was "low compliance with the requirement in the Coastal Gulf of Maine Closure Area".
NMFS regulations require gillnet fishermen to deploy “pingers”, devices that regularly emit an audible "ping" to deter harbor porpoise from gear interactions. According to NMFS observer data, the fleet was 82.5 percent compliant with having the correct number of pingers, based on 883 observed hauls. The fleet was 92.4 percent compliant for pinger functionality based on 428 pingers tested. However, determining the functionality of pingers in the field can be difficult for both fishermen and NMFS enforcement. To further advance pinger compliance, the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund has worked with the Australian manufacturer Future Oceans to ensure they have the manufacturing capability to deliver new technology pingers with LED indicators. The LEDs will enable fishermen to instantly know if the pinger is functioning properly.
Fishermen have agreed to deploy twice the number of traditional pingers currently required starting October 1, and beginning in November (as soon as they can be delivered) to replace the old pingers with the required number of new generation "LED pingers" which provide a visual confirmation of pinger functionality. The Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund has offered to make new-technology LED pingers available to fishermen through favorable equipment leasing terms to enable fishermen to remain in compliance without the financial stresses of an up-front capital investment.
The Humane Society of the United States criticizes a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service that will lead to additional deaths of fall-migrating harbor porpoises by delaying closure of gillnet fishing in an area off the New England coast. Under pressure from the commercial fishing industry, the federal agency will not put the closure in effect Oct. 1 as required by the agency’s own regulations.
The area is in waters off the coast of New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts and is heavily used by the porpoises during their seasonal migration. In this area, porpoises are killed in large numbers when they become entangled in the invisible gillnets commercial fishermen set to catch fish such as cod, flounder and dogfish. Federal regulations require the seasonal use of acoustic devices known as “pingers,” which attach to nets and emit a high-frequency sound to alert porpoises to potential danger in their paths. Because of low compliance with the requirement in the Coastal Gulf of Maine Closure Area and a high number of porpoise deaths, the area was to be closed for 60 days during the fall migration. Compliance with the regulation is high in other areas.
“The National Marine Fisheries Service is legally responsible under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to protect harbor porpoises,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The HSUS. “The agency’s step back from its own regulations and retreat from a compromise plan between the commercial fishing industry and environmental groups may lead to a larger number of porpoise deaths this fall.”
In 2007, when government regulators discovered that commercial fishermen were failing to use pingers properly, fishermen and environmental groups, including The HSUS, reached a compromise in which the industry agreed to abide by mandates to use pingers or face a closure if porpoise mortality remained unacceptably high. This agreement became a federal regulation that NMFS is now disregarding.
Read the full release from the Humane Society of the United States