Massachusetts Saltwater Fishing
All About Gear
To recreationally fish for lobsters or edible crabs excluding blue crabs you must hold a Recreational Lobster/Crabbing Permit endorsed for trap fishing. This endorsement allows you to fish up to 10 traps. Any member of your immediate family may fish your traps for you. No household may hold more than one permit endorsed for traps, nor fish more than 10 traps. This permit must be carried on the vessel at all times when fishing for lobsters or edible crabs. This permit allows up to 15 lobsters to be kept per day.
All traps and cars must be buoyed at the surface. Each permit holder must have a unique buoy color combination of up to three colors. This color combination is provided by the applicant on the application. Each buoy must be marked with this color scheme, typically by painting the buoys. The color scheme must also be visibly displayed on the vessel. This is commonly done by displaying a buoy on the vessel or painting the color scheme on the side of the vessel. You should look to see what combinations recreational and commercial trap fishermen are using in your area and try to pick a unique color combination.
All buoys must be permanently marked with permit holder information in a specific alphanumerical sequence. This begins with the letter “N”; then the permit number; followed by a dash (-); then a single digit from 0 to 9, indicating the sequential pot number in the series that the permit holder is fishing. Each letter and number must be 1″ in height by ½” in width. Common techniques include permanent marker, painting or burning.
Single Pots vs Trawls
Most recreational fishermen prefer to fish single buoyed pots rather than trawls, which are a series of pots tied together at one or both ends. However, they may fish either. Each style of trap configuration requires a unique surface identification.
Single traps shall be marked with a single 7″ x 7″ or 5″ x 11″ buoy. The use of buoy sticks is optional, but if a stick is used a flag shall not be attached.
Trawls shall be marked on the east end with a double buoy consisting of any combination of two 7″ x 7″ or 5″ x 11″ buoys and one or more three foot sticks (so the two buoys can be side-by-side or stacked). Then the west end of the trawl shall be marked with a single 7″ x 7″ or 5″ x 11” buoy with a 3 foot stick and flag. Trawls of two or three traps shall only be marked on one end, whereas trawls of four or more traps must be marked on both.
All traps and cars must be permanently marked with permit holder information in the same alphanumerical sequence as the buoy number. This alphanumerical sequence shall be permanently secured into the inside of the trap through the use of a synthetic plate or by being burned or cut by a wooden lath.
Lobster/Crab Trap Requirements
It is unlawful for any trap to exceed a volume of 22,950 cubic inches.
Escape vents are required in order to allow sub-legal sized lobsters and other non-targeted species to leave the trap. Escape vents must be unobstructed. Circular vents are preferred for retaining crabs.
One or more rectangular escape vent or two or more circular escape vents shall be placed on a side of the parlor section of the trap and are typically affixed with hog rings. While a particular orientation is not mandated, certain orientations enhance escapement (see Escape Vent and Ghost Panel Placement). If your trap has two parlors, both areas must be vented.
Escape vent sizes and frequency are specific to the Recreational Lobster/Crab Area (p 30) where the traps are set and hauled:
- Gulf of Maine Recreational Lobster/Crab Area. Rectangular escape vents must measure at least 1 15⁄16″ by 5 ¾” or two circular vents must measure 2 7⁄16″ diameter.
- Outer Cape Cod or Southern New England Recreational Lobster/Crab Area. Rectangular escape vents must measure 2″ by 5 ¾” or two circular vents must measure at least 2 5⁄8″ diameter.
Ghost panels are designed to create an opening to allow the escapement of lobsters and incidental catch within 12 months after a trap has been lost or abandoned.
- Panel size. The panel must be rectangular and measure at least 3 ¾” x 3 ¾”. The panel may be your escape vent or trap door.
- Panel location. The panel must be located in the outer parlor section of the trap and in a position which allows unobstructed exit of lobsters. The panel should not be located on the bottom of the trap.
- Panel fasteners. The panel – or the trap door or escape vent if being used as a panel – must be fastened to the trap with one of the following materials: cotton; hemp; sisal or jute twine not greater than 3/16” diameter; or non-stainless, uncoated ferrous metal not greater than 3⁄32″ in diameter.
- Wooden traps. Traps constructed entirely or partially of wood shall be considered in compliance if constructed with wooden lath to the extent that deterioration of the wooden component(s) will result in an unobstructed opening of at least 3 3⁄32″ by 3 3⁄32″.
Line Configuration Requirements
Your buoy lines are the lines that connect your pots to their surface buoy. While swimming through the water column large whales, porpoises and sea turtles may become entangled in these lines. As Massachusetts provides important waters for these species, your buoy lines are subject to certain requirements to reduce injury and mortality associated with entanglements and to identify entangling gear.
Sinking Buoy Lines
The top 2/3 of all buoy lines must be comprised of sinking line. The bottom 1/3 of the line which may be floating line, if so desired. Sinking line has a specific gravity that is greater than or equal to that of seawater (1.03) and does not float in the water column.
Buoy Line Diameter
All buoy lines must have a diameter that does not exceed 5⁄16″.
On the top of the buoy line before the buoy, all lines must have a breakable section (weak link) that will part when subjected to 600 pounds of pull pressure and after parting will result in a knot-less end, not thicker than the diameter of the line (see image).
Buoy Line Marking
Mid-way on the buoy line there must be a 4″ red mark. If the buoy line is red, then a white mark may be used instead. Common marking tools include tape and paint (see image).
If fishing trawls, the groundline that connects each pot must be sinking line (see image).
Buoy Line Marking
By marking the rope, that gear can be identified to a certain area and fishery, if it is taken off an entangled whale.
Whale Gear Restrictions and Closures
All traps must be hauled at least once every 30 days, or the gear is considered to be abandoned. It is unlawful to abandon gear in Massachusetts waters. If you believe your gear is lost and may become abandoned, please contact the Massachusetts Environmental Police or the Division of Marine Fisheries and inform them of when and where the gear was last hauled and set.
Trap Gear Closure
All traps must be removed from and may not be set in waters under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth from November 1 – May 15.
Blue Crab Trap Prohibition
The use of traps to take blue crabs and the retention of blue crabs taken by traps is prohibited.
Single Traps Closure
The use of single traps is prohibited in state-waters north of Cape Cod that are seaward of 3-miles from shore, with an exception for an area off Billingsgate Shoal. This area includes those waters that are shoreward of the Loran-C Line 9960-X-25360, as it runs from Barnstable to Wellfleet (see map for coordinates).
Single Trap Area
Single traps may be set in the shaded areas depicted in the map below.