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Maine Congressional Delegation Asks Feds To Shift Focus Of Right Whale Protections

Peter Duley
Four North Atlantic right whales.

Maine's congressional delegation is trying to up the pressure on federal fisheries regulators to look beyond the state's lobster industry when seeking to reduce threats to the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

In a letter to top officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this week, the delegation calls on the agency to provide more information about reducing the risk of ship strikes off the United States and Canada - strikes that they say are as much a threat to the whales' survival as entanglement with lobster fishing gear.

Maine 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, notes that just last month, a newborn right whale calf was sighted off Florida with an apparent ship-strike injury. He says Maine's lobster industry is being asked to bear too much of the burden and is at a disadvantage compared to powerful shipping and conservation organizations.

"They pay for teams of lawyers and they're well-represented by lobbyists and firms in Washington. The lobstermen are small business owners - they don't have the same apparatus at work inside the beltway."

The letter asks for information about a NOAA review of ship speed rules and data used to set them, as well as what commitments NOAA is seeking from Canada to reduce the threat of ship strikes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

There are about 400 North Atlantic right whales left on the planet.

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.