Amendment of Virginia Pound Net Regulations
NOAA Fisheries issues this final rule amending the Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction Plan (BDTRP) and its implementing regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The rule requires the year-round use of modified pound net leaders for offshore Virginia pound nets in specified waters of the lower mainstem Chesapeake Bay and coastal state waters. Virginia pound net-related definitions, gear prohibitions, and non-regulatory measures are also finalized. This final rule is based on consensus recommendations of the Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction Team (BDTRT). For consistency, we also amend current regulations and definitions for Virginia pound nets under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for sea turtle conservation.
Pound net regulations were enacted to protect both sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins. All offshore pound nets in southern Virginia estuarine and state coastal waters (the Bottlenose Dolphin Pound Net Regulated Area) must use modified pound net leaders year round under MMPA implementing regulations for the BDTRP. Offshore leaders outside that area in Virginia state waters (Virginia Pound Net Regulated Area) and all nearshore pound net leaders must have stretched mesh less than 12 inches and must not use stringers from May 6 through July 15 under the ESA implementing regulations. Fishermen must also attend a one-time compliance training before setting modified pound net leaders and fish all sections of pound net gear at the same time per both MMPA and ESA requirements, and report any sea turtle interactions per ESA requirements.