Plans three public meetings

Maine DMR proposes new right whale regs

By Kendra Caruso | Oct 30, 2019
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Belfast Lobstering Union Representative Wayne Canning looks at a fishing map in his kitchen Oct. 27 while talking about Maine DMR's proposed fishing regulations.

Belfast — The Maine Department of Marine Resources released Oct. 16 a draft proposal changing Maine fishing regulations. It will submit new regulations, aimed at protecting endangered right whales, to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after three public meetings.

DMR announced three public meetings about the proposals: in Ellsworth Monday, Nov. 4, Waldoboro Tuesday, Nov. 5, and South Portland Wednesday, Nov. 6, all starting at 5 p.m. The department canceled several meetings scheduled last September after fishermen disputed regulation proposals in multiple August meetings.

The new regulations would most affect fishermen beyond the 3-mile zone. Traps per line from the shore to 3 miles, 3 to 6 miles, 6 to 12 miles, and beyond 12 miles would increase, with the highest number of line traps beyond 12 miles.

Break-away rope with one weak spot will be used inside the 3-mile zone and rope with two weak spots will be required beyond that zone. The proposal would implement separate gear-marking systems specific to deep and shallow Maine waters.

Fishermen would be required to submit monthly reports about where and how much they fish. Federally permitted harvesters in Maine would be required to have a vessel monitor. There is no proposal to reduce traps from the current 800 per license.

NOAA asked Maine DMR to gather input from fishermen about regulation changes that would better protect the right whale from line entanglement in Maine waters. Maine DMR will submit the proposed changes later this year after the November public meetings.

The agency previously suggested a number of new regulations from its Take Reduction Team, but provided little evidence of the whale’s presence in Maine waters. The majority of right whale mortalities occur as a result of ship strikes in Canadian waters, according to NOAA’s own data.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association recently rescinded support for NOAA’s requests, stating it was misled by the federal agency. It asserted that the lack of data on whale mortalities in Maine was the primary reason for withdrawing support.

Zone D, District 11 Maine Lobstering Union Representative Wayne Canning fishes out of Belfast Harbor. He’s familiar with the constraints on the industry, but is hopeful that the zone he fishes in will be exempt from the proposal.

Like many other fishermen, he has never seen a right whale while fishing within the 3-mile zone. He said he doubts they would have enough space to comfortably swim between the islands and through inlets.

Canning said he is willing to listen and compromise to protect the whales, but added that it does not make sense to create regulations for areas the animals do not frequent.

“It’s like putting a stop light on top of Mount Katahdin,” He said.

He will attend one meeting to voice his ideas and listen to other fishermen's opinions. The looming regulations only put more constraints on an industry that is short on bait and has decreased catches, he said.

This season, Canning said he caught only about 50% of what he was trapping in previous years. He sells them for $5 per pound.

Being in the business for more than 30 years has taught him how to adjust to changes. He has had to work in other sectors of the industry to make ends meet during rough years.

Canning said he never intends to retire, but global warming has him concerned about lobsters disappearing from the Maine Coast. He will wait to see what next season brings to gain a better perspective on the future of lobstermen.

“This job may become a hobby,” he said. “Not a livelihood.”

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