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Maine Will Defy 'Foolish' Fed Targets For Reducing Risks Of Right Whale Entanglement In Lobster Gear

Campobello Whale Rescue

A showdown over lobsters and whales appears to be brewing between Maine and the federal government.

Under direction from Gov. Janet Mills, the Maine Department of Marine Resources is telling federal regulators that the state will not accept their targets for reducing risk that endangered North Atlantic right whales will be entangled in rope the state's lobstermen use to tend their gear.

The federal target of a 60 percent reduction in risk could force Maine lobstermen to remove half their ropefrom the water. Mills calls it "foolish" and "misguided," based on poor data and untested science. Mills joins a growing chorus of top elected officials in Maine condemning the federal proposal.

She directed the DMR to create its own risk reduction target that is, "commensurate with any actual risk posed by the Maine lobster industry."

DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher says that analysis will result in a lower risk reduction target than proposed by the feds. And he took that message to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a meeting in Portland on Thursday

"We're going to make our own determination of risk,” Keliher says “The state is not going to agree to a plan that impacts this lobster industry that will have no benefit to whales."

After the meeting, NOAA issued a statement saying it was "disappointed" that Maine may "unilaterally" withdraw from a stakeholder process that produced the new proposal by consensus and with initial approval from Mainers on the panel. Keliher says the state is not withdrawing from the stakeholder process, but is now disagreeing with the goals that have been set. The federal government is expected to begin formal rulemaking hearings this fall.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.