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NOAA Is Giving $1.6 Million To Maine Lobstermen To Help Comply With Pending Gear Rules

Pat Wellenbach
In this July 2006 file photo, lobsterman Paul Prosser, of Cundy's Harbor, Maine, heads out to sea near Rogue Island to set his traps.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is allocating $1.6 million to help the lobster industry adapt to new and pending gear rules that aim to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

NOAA says the funds will likely be used to aid acquisition of new gear, such as breakaway trap-rope or costly, remote-controlled “ropeless” technology that could reduce the chance the whales will be injured or killed by entanglements.

NOAA spokesperson Jennifer Goebbel says the agency will seek guidance from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council.

“We’re going to get a proposal from ASMFC. They’re going to be consulting with the state of Maine about what kinds of ways these funds could be expended and they are going to give us a proposal and do an initial assessment and then once we have that we’ll have a much better idea about how this program will work,” she says.

Maine lobstermen right now are contending with a new state requirement that by September their trap-ropes must be marked with purple identifiers unique to this state’s lobster fleet. That’s to aid efforts to identify where an entangled whale may have encountered fishing gear.

NOAA, meanwhile, is in the midst of a rule-making process that could force lobstermen to reduce by half the amount of rope they put in the water, and to haul more traps per line — proposals that are meeting some strong resistance in Maine.

The state’s Department of Marine Resources is working on its own proposal to the feds, which would include an exemption for boats working in a zone that extends roughly three miles from shore.

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.