Coast Guard seizes fishing vessel’s catch worth $30,000

 BOSTON – A Coast Guard boarding found a Fairhaven, Mass, vessel fishing without required whale-safety weak links, resulting in a seizure by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) special agents. The catch has an estimated value of $30,000.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Grand Isle boarding officers found required weak links missing when they boarded the fishing vessel Harvester at sea on 3 July. The Harvester’s crew was working gillnet gear on northern George’s Bank, in the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan area known as the Seasonal Area Management (SAM) Zone East. Within this zone, weak links with specific breaking strengths are required on fixed fishing gear to minimize the risk of whales becoming entangled and being injured or killed as a result of swimming into the gear.

Coast Guard personnel, in coordination with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Services – Office of Law Enforcement special agents, are investigating whether the Harvester violated provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management.

“The Coast Guard is committed to the protection of marine mammals, and regularly patrols the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and New England waters enforcing marine mammal protection rules,” said Capt. Joseph McGuiness, Chief of the Enforcement Branch for the First Coast Guard District. “Fishermen are under considerable economic pressure to survive. Taking action against those who violate regulations gives the honest fisherman a better chance of making it through these tough times.”

The SAM program is one of several areas in New England waters where gear modifications are required on fixed fishing gear to minimize potential harm to marine mammals. The program was implemented in 2002, and identified two management areas based on predictable annual aggregations of endangered right whales, estimated to number less than 300 total animals in North Atlantic waters.

Further, Dynamic Area Management (DAM) zones are triggered throughout the year by sightings of groups of endangered North Atlantic Right whales in New England waters. These DAM zones require gear modifications to lobster pot and gillnet gear for the duration of the zone in order to reduce the possibility of entanglement and injury to these endangered creatures.

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