Recreational Lobster and Crab Fishing in Massachusetts
Permit Requirements for Lobster and Crab Fishing
Recreational fishing for lobsters and Cancer crabs (excluding blue crabs) in Massachusetts requires a specific permit. Here are the key points:
- Permit Type: A Recreational Lobster/Crabbing Permit with an endorsement for trap fishing is mandatory.
- Trap Limit: The permit authorizes the use of up to 10 traps.
- Family Use: Immediate family members are allowed to operate your traps.
- Household Limitations: Each household can hold only one permit endorsed for traps and cannot operate more than 10 traps.
- Daily Catch Limit: The permit grants the allowance to keep up to 15 lobsters per day.
- Onboard Requirement: This permit must always be present on the vessel when fishing for lobsters or edible crabs.
Surface Identification: Buoy Colors and Marking
To ensure proper identification and management of traps:
- Buoy Color Combination: Each permit holder must choose up to three colors for their buoy, which should be unique to avoid confusion with other fishermen's gear.
- Visible Display: This color scheme must be visibly displayed on both the buoys and the vessel.
- Buoy Marking: Buoys must be permanently marked with the permit holder’s information, starting with an “N”, the permit number, a dash, and a pot number (0-9). Each character must be 1" high and ½" wide.
Choosing Single Pots vs. Trawls
Fishermen have the option between single pots and trawls, each with specific marking requirements:
- Single Pots: These should be marked with a single buoy of either 7" x 7" or 5" x 11". The use of a buoy stick is optional.
- Trawls: Trawls on the east end require a double buoy setup with two 7" x 7" or 5" x 11" buoys and possibly a three-foot stick. The west end should have a single buoy of the same size with a three-foot stick and flag. Trawl marking varies based on the number of traps used.
Gear Identification Inside Traps
Similar to buoys, all traps and storage cars must have the permit holder's information marked inside:
- Identification Method: The alphanumerical sequence used for buoy marking should also be applied inside the trap.
- Permanent Marking: This can be achieved by attaching a synthetic plate inside the trap or by engraving or burning the sequence onto the trap’s interior.
Lobster/Crab Trap and Line Requirements
Massachusetts regulations for lobster and crab trap construction and buoy line management are designed to promote sustainable fishing practices and protect marine life. Understanding these regulations is crucial for recreational and commercial fishers alike.
Trap Size and Construction
- Maximum Volume: Lobster and crab traps must not exceed a volume of 22,950 cubic inches, ensuring standardized trap sizes for effective management and conservation.
Escape Vents for Lobster/Crab Traps
- Purpose: Escape vents are mandatory to allow undersized lobsters and non-target species to exit the trap, minimizing unwanted catch and supporting marine biodiversity.
- Design: Circular vents are recommended for retaining crabs, while rectangular vents are common for lobster traps.
- In the Gulf of Maine Area, rectangular vents must be at least 1 15/16" by 5 ¾", or two circular vents must have a diameter of 2 7/16".
- For the Outer Cape Cod or Southern New England Area, rectangular vents should measure 2" by 5 ¾", or circular vents must be at least 2 5/8" in diameter.
- Placement: Vents should be located on the parlor section's side, with specific orientations recommended to enhance escapement. Dual-parlor traps must have both sections vented.
- Function: Ghost panels allow for the escape of marine life from lost or abandoned traps within 12 months, reducing long-term environmental impacts.
- Specifications: The ghost panel must be at least 3 ¾" x 3 ¾" and located in the trap's outer parlor for unobstructed exit. Acceptable fastening materials include cotton, hemp, sisal, jute twine (up to 3/16" diameter), or non-stainless, uncoated ferrous metal (up to 3/32" in diameter).
- Wooden Traps Compliance: Traps partially or wholly made of wood meet requirements if they naturally degrade to create a sufficient opening.
Buoy Line Management
To prevent entanglement of marine animals such as whales, porpoises, and sea turtles, buoy lines connecting pots to surface buoys must adhere to specific configurations:
- Sinking Buoy Lines: The top two-thirds of all buoy lines must be made from sinking line material, heavier than seawater, to prevent floating in the water column. The bottom third may be floating line, if preferred.
- Diameter Limitation: Buoy lines cannot exceed a diameter of 5/16".
- Buoy Line Marking: A 4" red or white mark (contrasting with the line color) must be placed midway on the buoy line for identification purposes.
Ground Line Configuration for Trawls
- Material: When fishing trawls, the connecting ground line must be made of sinking line to reduce the risk of entanglement in the water column.
Anatomy of a Lobster Trap
Entrance Head: Picture the entrance as a mesh opening situated on one side of the trap, almost like a welcoming door for the lobsters. It's ingeniously crafted to allow lobsters to enter with the promise of bait but designed in such a way that exiting through the same way becomes a puzzle.
Kitchen: This section acts as the initial chamber within the trap, serving as the dining area for the lobsters. Here, a bait bag full of enticing food is placed. The kitchen is designed to draw lobsters further into the trap, seduced by the scent and promise of an easy meal.
Parlor Head or Funnel: After the lobsters have had their fill in the kitchen, they encounter the parlor head or funnel. This part is a mesh netting that slopes upward, misleading lobsters to believe it's a pathway out. Instead, it guides them deeper into the trap's architecture.
Parlor: Consider this the final room or chamber where the lobsters find themselves after navigating through the funnel. It's the primary holding area for the catch, effectively trapping the lobsters away from the entrance and the bait.
Escape Vent/Ghost Panel: This feature is a testament to sustainable fishing practices. Situated within the parlor, the escape vent allows undersized lobsters to leave the trap, ensuring only legal-sized lobsters are caught. The ghost panel aspect of the vent is designed to degrade over time if the trap is lost or abandoned, opening up and preventing it from becoming a death trap for marine life.
Massachusetts Marine Gear Regulations: Ensuring Safety and Conservation
Massachusetts implements stringent regulations on fishing gear and practices to protect marine ecosystems, particularly focusing on preventing gear abandonment, safeguarding marine mammals, and ensuring sustainable fishing practices.
Abandoned Gear Regulations
- 30-Day Rule: All lobster and crab traps must be hauled at least once every 30 days. Failure to do so classifies the gear as abandoned, which is illegal under state law.
- Reporting Lost Gear: In the event of lost gear, fishers are required to notify the Massachusetts Environmental Police or the Division of Marine Fisheries, providing details of the gear's last known location and haul date. This proactive approach helps in mitigating potential hazards to marine life and navigational safety.
Seasonal Trap Gear Closure
- Annual Closure Period: From November 1 to May 15, all buoyed traps must be removed from Commonwealth waters. This measure aims to protect migrating marine species, especially the North Atlantic right whale.
- Flexibility Clause: The closure period may be adjusted based on the observed presence or absence of right whales, with potential extensions beyond May 15 or early rescindment after May 1, demonstrating a dynamic approach to marine conservation.
Blue Crab Trap Restrictions
- Trap Prohibition: Utilizing traps for capturing blue crabs is strictly prohibited. Additionally, retaining blue crabs caught via traps is illegal, underscoring the commitment to sustainable crab fishing methods that minimize unintended ecological impacts.
Buoy Line Marking for Whale Safety
- Identification and Conservation: Marking buoy lines serves a dual purpose: it aids in identifying gear specific to certain areas and fisheries, and it plays a crucial role in whale conservation efforts. In instances where gear is removed from entangled whales, the markings help trace the gear back to its source, facilitating better management practices and accountability.