CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Federal officials are invoking an emergency rule to ban lobster and crab trap fishermen from working in Massachusetts Bay over the next three months.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cited that there is a high likelihood that right whales are in the area in February, March, and April.
They said fishing in that area poses a threat to the safety of North Atlantic right whales in commercial lobster and Jonah crab trap/pot fisheries, according to the NOAA. This emergency rule extension is to help reduce the risk of right whale mortality and serious injury caused by buoy lines in an area with high co-occurrence of whales and buoy lines.
This emergency rule is effective as of Wednesday and it affects commercial American lobster and Jonah crab fishing.
Since 2017, an Unusual Mortality Event has been declared and the primary cause of death or serious injuries in right whales was entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes in U.S. and Canada waters. In just the last three weeks, NOAA has reported three right whales entangled in fishing gear, including one in the Cape Cod Bay.
Whale entanglement in North Carolina
On January 8, a right whale was sighted entangled 20 miles east of Rodanthe, North Carolina. Several lines were wrapped around the mouth and tail, along with an additional line trailing behind the whale. The right whale was determined to be seriously injured, meaning it was likely to die from the injuries.
The whale was identified as a 4-year-old juvenile female and daughter of right whale named Spindle. The last known sighting of the juvenile whale was in May 2022 in the Massachusetts Bay, and she was not entangled at that point.
Whale entanglement in Cap Cod Bay
On January 18, the Center for Coastal Studies discovered an entangle North Atlantic right whale in the Cape Cod Bay, just 5 miles south of Provincetown, Massachusetts. The whale was identified as a 2-year-old calf of the adult whale named Squilla. This whale was spotted in August 2022 off the coast of New Brunsick, Canada and was also entangled at that time.
Due to challenging weather and the location of the right whale, it was not possible for a team to disentangle the right whale. The whale has a constricting wrap around its tail and flukes.
Whale entanglement in Georgia
On January 20, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spotted an entangled North Atlantic right whale 13 miles east of Jekyll Island, Georgia. Experts were able to assist the whale and removed approximately 375 feet of rope passing through the whale’s mouth and dragged hundreds of feet behind its flukes. Only a short amount of rope remained in the whale’s mouth, but the crew was optimistic the remaining rope will dislodge on its own.
The right whale was identified as 15-year-old adult male named Nimbus. He was last seen on August 8 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada and was not entangled at that time.