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Business and Economy

Regulators Unveil Risk-Assessment Tool Designed To Help Reduce Right Whale Entanglements

Campobello Whale Rescue
An entangled right whale off Campobello Island in 2016.

Federal fisheries regulators demonstrated a new risk-assessment tool on Tuesday, aimed at helping the survival of the North Atlantic right whale. It comes on the eve of regulatory decisions that could affect the fate of the endangered species — and the lobster industry, as well.

Federal scientists say the new data model should help lobstermen and conservationists make collaborative decisions about reducing dangers that fishing gear poses for the endangered species.

In a webinar presentation to stakeholders, the model got a skeptical reception from some stakeholders, who are preparing for what could be a decisive meeting on the issue next week.

“To have a government agency a week before a meeting say, ‘This is the best we have deal with it,’ is very disturbing,” says Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

She says that the model predicted, for instance, that one of the highest-risk situations the whales face is near the Maine shore in early winter — a time, she says, when whales are not congregating in the area and many Maine lobstermen are taking a break.

“The preliminary run of the model doesn’t really seem to make sense based on what we know about the fishery. So I think it’s the right approach, but I don’t think it’s ready for prime time,” she says.

McCarron is part of a broad team of stakeholders called the Take Reduction Team. They convene next week in Providence to seek consensus on changes in gear and fishing practices that would reduce the risk of whales being entangled on the rope that’s used to haul traps.

The scientists, meanwhile, say they will continue to refine the risk assessment tool and populate it with more data.

McCarron says consensus still may be hard to achieve, in which case federal fishery managers have ultimate authority.

Originally published April 16, 2019 at 5:36 a.m. ET.