Regulators say new whale-protection rules for Maine's lobster fleet are on the horizon
Federal regulators said they will soon start a process to create new whale-protection rules for Maine's lobster fleet that will go beyond the controversial regulations going into effect on May 1. The rules are being imposed to reduce the risk that endangered North Atlantic right whales will be killed by entanglements with fishing gear or ship strikes.
Michael Pentony, the regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, spoke to an online meeting of the Maine Fishermen's Forum today.
He said that the initial rules were designed to reduce the risk to whales by 60%, but recent evidence shows that the agency must act more quickly than planned to reduce that risk even more.
"But as we got new information late last fall... for the right whale population, we now know that we need a 90% risk reduction," Petony said.
Pentony called that a "daunting task".
He said NOAA is ordering a stakeholder group to propose new rules for east coast gillnet fisheries and all fisheries south of Rhode Island by fall, and then turn to tightening rules for the New England Jonah crab and lobster fisheries.
Conservation groups and the lobster industry had both expected that over the next decade further and potentially drastic risk reduction measures would be coming to New England fisheries, but this the first formal indicator of just how fast that might happen.
A lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation, one of several suing the federal government for more robust action, said NOAA should consider more rules for the entire east coast right away. Lobster industry representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.
There are roughly 330 North Atlantic right whales left on the planet. 15 whale calves have been sighted off the southern Atlantic coast this calving season.