DMR postpones right whale meetings

By Kendra Caruso | Aug 29, 2019
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Fishermen pack a right whale meeting in Ellsworth Aug. 13.

Augusta — Maine Department of Marine Resources has canceled its remaining right whale meetings in Southern and Midcoast Maine. The department will reschedule the meetings before proposing a new fishing policy to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Maine DMR Communications Director Jeff Nichols said the department is taking time to perform a thorough evaluation of the data to develop a proposal regarding right whale regulations. He said the department intends to reschedule the meetings but is unsure about when that will be.

“We still intend to put forward a plan for the National Marine Fisheries service by sometime in late September, early October,” Nichols said. “We’re just taking a little more time to do a thorough evaluation of data and put together our plan.”

Maine DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in an email that he doesn’t see the cancellations as “jeopardizing any discussed timelines” in regard to submitting a policy. Keliher did not comment about the new discussions or data being reviewed.

Meetings were scheduled in Waldoboro, Kennebunk, Freeport, Wiscasset, Trenton, East Machias and Deer Isle during three weeks in early September.

The purpose of the meetings is for a statewide discussion about a NOAA proposal to reduce mortality rates of the endangered right whale, of which there are fewer than 400 left, according to NOAA. Meetings are intended to be an open dialogue with fishermen about possible industry changes.

NOAA tasked the Maine DMR with submitting a set of policy changes based on public input and need from Maine fishermen.

A NOAA team affiliated with the Maine fishing industry thought a 50% vertical line reduction and a 1,700-pound break-away rope limit would help reduce whale mortality.

Since then, fishermen have been vocal about opposing the suggestion, stating that it would put more financial and safety constraints on the industry.

Right whale deaths are caused primarily by ship strikes and rope entanglements. The majority of whale deaths have been reported in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Canada. Eight whales have died recently in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, according to a press release by NOAA Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver.

There have been no recent whale deaths definitively tied to Maine fishing gear, according to NOAA. It has little data that suggests right whales frequent Maine waters.

 

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