Final Rule to Close the Wedge Area within the Massachusetts Restricted Area
NOAA Fisheries is amending the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (Plan) to expand the boundaries of the seasonal Massachusetts Restricted Area (MRA) to include the wedge between state and Federal waters known as the Massachusetts Restricted Area Wedge (MRA Wedge). The MRA Wedge was seasonally closed to trap/pot fishing gear by emergency rulemaking in 2022 and 2023 to prevent the immediate risk to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis, right whale) of mortality and serious injury caused by entanglement in fixed-gear buoy lines. Substantial observational evidence has documented the consistent presence of right whales within the MRA Wedge from February through April and aerial surveys have similarly documented the presence of aggregated fixed gear in the MRA Wedge during this same time period. Due to the co-occurrence of whales and buoy lines, both in high densities in this area during the specified times of year, this entanglement risk is expected to recur annually. This action will address this gap in protection between seasonally closed state and Federal waters and reduce the incidental mortality and serious injury of right whales, fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in commercial trap/pot fisheries. There is a specific carve out for this rule in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (CAA).