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Lobster fishermen who harvest federal waters will be required to install electronic trackers on their boats

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images

East Coast lobster and Jonah Crab fishermen who harvest federal waters will be required to install electronic trackers on their boats, giving federal regulators unprecedented detail on where fishing activity is taking place. A vote by the regional American Lobster Management Board approved the measure Thursday.

The trackers will ping a central data base once a minute, but many details about individual boats' movements will be kept confidential. And officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the data won't be used for real-time enforcement of fisheries regulations.

Megan Ware, a representative of Maine's Department of Marine Resources, said right now federal closures of some harvesting areas to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales are based on comparatively weak data about where and when whales and boats are likely to cross paths.

"And I just don't see that as a winning combination for this industry... I don't think tracking data is going to prevent these closures, but it does give us the ability to refine them, and anything that we can do to be more targeted in our measures moving forward I think is a benefit to this industry as a whole," Mirament said.

Ware and the co-chair of the Maine Legislature's Marine Resources Committee, Democratic Senator David Mirament, voted for the measure, over objections from the third member of Maine's delegation, lobsterman Steve Train.

He said there’s no support in the lobstering community for what fishermen call a “Big Brother” style overreach. But in the end, the caucuses of each of the 11 Atlantic states voted in favor of the measure, and it will go into effect in late 2023. A recent federal budget includes millions of dollars to pay for the on-board equipment.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.