Area fishermen told National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration representatives on Aug. 13 that they feel targeted by proposed new gear regulations.

The Ellsworth High School auditorium was packed during one of a series of meetings held near fishing communities in Maine. The crowd was made up of conservationists, scientists and politicians, but mostly fishermen. U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and State Rep. Genevieve McDonald, D-Deer Isle, attended the event, while Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd Dist., sent staff representatives.

Colleen Coogan and Michael Asaro, both NOAA officials, delivered a slideshow presentation that lasted more than an hour. Crowd comments and reactions could be heard through the presentation.

Asaro began by introducing information about the right whale and its history. After tripping over some of his words when the crowd pressed him about right whale research in Maine waters, Coogan wrapped up.

Fishermen expressed concerns about feeling blamed for a problem that NOAA research can not definitively prove they've caused. NOAA research indicates that large vessel strikes are the predominant cause of whale deaths. Its current research places an increased number of whale deaths in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada.

Coogan said NOAA hopes to work with fishermen to conduct whale research that would minimize impact on the lobstering industry. Fishermen suggested tagging the whales with a GPS device to track migration.

“If you would just give us a chance to prove our innocence," one person said. " … I think the earmark is a good idea.”

One of the more controversial proposals is to reduce vertical fishing lines by 50% and a close second is the use of break-away rope. Fishermen argued that adding more traps to a fishing line would increase ghost traps — traps that break from fishing lines — and increase danger to fishermen by putting more strain on equipment.

Break-away ropes are unpopular because of the hard rock bottom of Maine’s coast. Fishermen said they would lose more traps on break-away ropes because the traps get snagged on rocks.

There was one area of consensus — using specifically tagged rope in the Maine waters.

Rep. McDonald, a fisherman herself, said she thinks that using specifically colored ropes tagged for Maine will prove that a high number of right whales aren’t migrating into Maine waters commonly used by lobstermen. And she said that it is the least financially constraining option for an industry facing a bait shortage.

If the Maine-specific ropes prove large numbers of right whales are migrating through Maine waters, McDonald said, then regulation changes could be considered.

King spoke in support of fishermen and criticized NOAA’s lack of data on right whales in Maine.

Coogan said she knows the Maine lobstering industry is unlike any other because of the culture that accompanies it. “Every single one of these fishermen represent a small business different from the next,” shd said.

Even though she takes some heat from fishermen at public meetings, she said it is her favorite part of the job. She said she doesn’t want to put any more financial burden on the industry, but if actions aren’t taken now to save the right whale, then the species might disappear forever.