Maine lobstermen and their counterparts along the East Coast who fish in federal waters will have to install an electronic tracking device on their boats starting next year.
Regulators with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Thursday to require all lobstermen and Jonah crab fishermen who fish offshore to have the devices onboard to collect and transmit spatial data. The unprecedented data from the trackers is intended to help regulators with assessing the health of the lobster and crab stocks, ocean planning and interactions with right whales and other protected species.
But lobstermen from Maine have objected to the idea, fearing the data could be used against them, particularly to aid with the siting offshore wind turbines.
Concerns were raised by members at Thursday’s meeting, but all of the East Coast states on the lobster management board voted in favor of the requirement.
Lobstermen currently don’t have to report their locations, meaning there is little data to show how much and where they fish. But fishermen aren’t alone on the water and are facing increased competition for space in the Gulf of Maine as aquaculture, marine protected areas and offshore energy become more prevalent.
With these other uses on the rise, regulators say there is an increasing need for more information on where lobstermen fish and by having it, the lobster fishery’s most important fishing grounds could be protected and maintained.
Virginia Olsen with the Maine Lobstering Union said she understood why regulators were asking for the devices, but none of her peers are thrilled about putting them on their vessels.
She and others feel the data could be used to fence the fishery in to make way for other uses. That would be a tough pill to swallow because the fishery shifts to follow the lobsters; where lobstermen fish now might not be where they are in the future.
“The hotspots that we were fishing 10 years ago aren’t the hotspots we are fishing today,” she said.
The trackers would send pings to a central database once a minute, though most details on individual boats’ whereabouts would be kept confidential. Boats that fish in federal waters will have to continue to transmit data via the trackers even if they are fishing closer to shore where the devices are not required, according to officials. Tracking data will not be available to law enforcement in real-time to initiate investigations.