Stakeholders from 14 states agreed Friday on recommendations for reducing the risk that endangered North Atlantic right whales will be injured or killed by entanglement with fishing gear, with big stakes for Maine’s lobster industry.
The state’s delegation agreed to reduce the vertical lines its lobster fleet puts in the water by 50 percent, as well as reducing rope strength and a more rigorous gear-marking program.
Steuben lobsterman Michael Sargent is a member of the “Take Reduction Team” that met for four days this week in Providence. He says the proposal would require him to take more than 10 miles of rope out of the water.
He says he is scared, but can live with it.
"It's scary for me, but I know that's something I can go back to my fishery and explain to my fishermen,” says Sargent. “This is something we can do. I think it's a realistic number. It's something a lot of fishermen understand. And I would be willing to go back and have that conversation."
Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher says it is a lot to ask.
Maine delegation at whale harm reduction team votes “can live with” 50% redux in lobster trap rope. DMR commish Keliher supports pic.twitter.com/pbQ04XJEfI
— fred bever (@fredbever) April 26, 2019
"The measures developed here today are very likely to have potential severe economic impacts to the state of Maine's lobster fishery,” Keliher said. “We're in the northeast corner of the country, and much of our coastline is incredibly poor. There's not a lot of other options. It's much different than the rest of New England. We have to recognize that."
Delegations from each state are proposing measures to meet an overall goal of reducing whale injury and mortality by 60 percent.
Next week, federal fisheries managers say they will initiate a rulemaking process which, informed by Friday’s meeting, will impose new regulations.