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Environment and Outdoors

New federal method for calculating right whale deaths could bring even stricter regs for lobster industry

patrice mccaron.jpg
Fred Bever
Maine Public
Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association speaks Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 on Portland’s waterfront.

New federal findings on how many endangered North Atlantic right whales are dying each year could accelerate the timetable for reducing the risk of entanglements in lobster gear.

Now, an advocacy group for the industry has launched a major fundraising campaign to fight what it sees as an existential threat.

At a stakeholders meeting early this month, federal officials unveiled a new way to assess annual whale mortalities to include deaths that are not physically observed. Adding a calculation of so-called "crypto-mortalities" to the total could result in tougher requirements for lobstermen, such as area closures or trap limits.

"So the goal posts have been raised significantly, and we're not completely sure what the management implications are, but they've inferred that the lobster industry will be required to do more very soon," says Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

The industry is already challenging recent rules that aim to reduce entanglement risk by 60% in the near-term. McCarron says the new findings could raise that bar close to 94% — a potentially devastating blow, she says, and one more reason why her group is starting seeking to raise $10 million to finance research and mount legal challenges.

Federal officials declined comment on how the new findings would affect policy but indicated they would take up the issue and discuss potential actions at the next stakeholder meeting in December.