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Whale-Related Gear Rules

Year Round:

Massachusetts state waters are important habitat for endangered large whale species, including the humpback whale and North Atlantic right whale. Entanglement in fishing gear is a major cause of injury and mortality for large whales. MarineFisheries requires the use of modified fishing gear in order to reduce the risk of whale entanglement and identify entangling gear.

The following restrictions apply to all recreational lobster and crab traps.

  1. Groundlines. If fishing pot trawls, sinking groundline must be used between all traps.
  2. Buoys and Buoy Lines. All buoys must be outfitted with a 600-pound weak link. See photo.
  3. Buoy Lines. Vertical buoy lines must be made of sinking line, except the bottom 13 portion, which may be floating line if desired.
  4. Buoy Lines. All gear must have a 4 inch red marker midway on the buoy line. See photo.
  5. Buoy Lines. All buoy lines must have a diameter that is 3⁄8″ or less.
  6. Buoy Lines. Pot trawls of four or more traps may be set with two buoy lines. Trawls of two or three traps may only have one buoy line.
  7. Single Traps. Single traps may be set in all state-waters except those waters that are north of Cape Cod seaward of 3 miles from shore, with an exception for an area off Billingsgate Shoal. This area includes those waters that are shoreward of Loran C Line 9960-X-25360, as it runs from Barnstable to Wellfleet. See map for coordinates.
  8. Trap/Pot Gear Haul Out Period. All traps must be removed from and may not be set in the Large Whale Seasonal Trap/Pot Gear Closure Area from February 1 – April 30. See map for coordinates of the closure area.


Single: one pot with a single buoy line attached.

Double: two pot string of traps with a single buoy line attached.

Twin orange markers: a pair of identical orange flag-like strips of material that are clearly visible and attached to the buoy stick or high flyer.

Triple: three pot string of traps with a single buoy line attached.

Sinking line: a line that has a specific gravity greater than that of seawater, 1.03, and does not float up in the water column.

Weak Link: breakable section or device that will part when subjected to specified poundage of pull pressure and after parting, will result in a knot-less end, no thicker than the diameter of the line, the so-called “bitter end,” to prevent lodging in whale baleen.

Abandon or dispose of at sea: to leave fixed gear in the water without hauling it at least every 30 days or in prohibited areas during prohibited periods.


Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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