Maine's Congressional delegation is weighing in on potential restrictions on lobster trap gear aimed at protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whale from entanglements. The delegation says it wants to make sure new rules do not hit Maine's lobster fleet harder than others in New England.
In a letter to the acting director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Maine's delegation is raising concerns about gear recommendations made last month by a stakeholder initiative convened by NOAA. The group includes members from many Atlantic states, including Maine's Department of Marine Resources and Maine lobstermen. It made recommendations that attempt to meet a NOAA directive that the risk of annual right whale injuries or deaths due to fishing are reduced by 60 percent or more.
"All of us want to make sure that we provide protections to the right whale," says U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Collins says the delegation is concerned that fishermen from other states ultimately might not be required to share the burden equally.
"It's not fair, for example, for Massachusetts and New Hampshire to have less stringent requirements imposed than the state of Maine,” Collins says. “That's just not fair."
In the stakeholder meeting last month, there was clear consensus about meeting NOAA's 60 percent risk reduction goal.
But Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, says the details on actions that NOAA could adopt were less clear: Maine, for instance, said it would commit to reducing its lobster fleet's rope in the water by 50 percent. But Massachusetts proposed only a 30 percent rope-reduction goal for its fleet, arguing it should get credit for other tactics, including fishery closures around Cape Cod Bay it has already imposed when whales congregate there.
McCarron says the specific risk-reduction tactics were based on a modeling tool that, even now, is continuing to be refined.
"I think there was no way to definitively say that each proposal actually met that standard,” McCarron says. “And I think once that stuff is run through the final tool, they will find that some of the areas are deficient, and they will need to do some more work."
McCarron says she is hopeful that the Congressional delegation's letter will send a message to NOAA — and to Maine lobstermen as well — that there will be accountability for any new rules that are proposed or enacted.
“As we engage Maine lobstermen, we will be asked over and over again, 'what is Massachusetts doing? what is New Hampshire doing?' So we want to be able to tell them, 'we are not really sure what the details of that plan are going to be, but we are sure that we're all going to meet the same 60 percent reduction,' McCarron says.
A spokesperson for NOAA says the agency will review the letter.
Originally published May 29, 2019 at 5:26 p.m. ET.