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Maine DMR submits new lobster regulation proposal to NOAA

By Kendra Caruso | Jan 14, 2020
Photo by: Kendra Caruso A sign with right whale information on it hangs on a trashcan along the Harbor Walk in Belfast.

Augusta — The Maine Department of Marine Resources submitted its final draft changing a slew of lobstering regulations for approval by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in an effort to protect the endangered right whale.

It is likely to be several weeks before the state hears back from NOAA about the status of approval, according to DMR spokesperson Jeff Nichols. The federal administration could accept the draft, require Maine to submit a new one or create its own regulations, Nichols said.

All fishermen will have to mark their lines with purple paint. There is a minimum requirement of three traps per line within the 3-mile zone, four traps per line in the 3-to-6- mile zone, eight traps per line in the 6-to-12-mile zone, and beyond that a minimum of 25 traps per two lines is required.

There is an exemption for small boats within the 3-mile zone that allows Maine DMR to work with an individual whose boat is too small to haul three traps per line.

In each zone, weak points are required at various lengths along the ropes that break at 1,700 pounds to minimize whale entanglements. All licensed lobstermen will be required to report 100% of their harvesting and information regarding possible whale sightings.

Most of the fishermen affected will be those who fish farther than 3 miles offshore. All commercial lobster license holders will have a vessel-tracking system for NOAA.

Earlier in the year, NOAA tasked Maine DMR with developing practical policy changes to better protect the whales that could be accepted by lobstermen. The two agencies held several scoping meetings with those involved in the industry.

Lobstermen poked holes in NOAA’s arguments for new regulations using its own lack of research on the whales in Maine, leaving many people with more questions than answers.

According to the federal government itself, there is very little data to suggest that the whales frequent in Maine waters. There was only one reported whale death in recent years from a fishing line in Maine waters, according to NOAA research.

NOAA’s own data finds that the majority of recent whale deaths have occurred in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada, apparently from ship strikes. At least eight of the nine whale deaths in 2019 occurred in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, according to NOAA’s website.

Maine DMR has requested that the government develop better right whale research and tracking so it can be more informed about where the whales are apt to be. Nichols said the department’s decisions were largely informed by meetings with fishermen.

“This plan is the result of a rigorous analysis of data combined with critical input from the lobster industry,” Nichols said.

Gear-marking requirements will go into effect by September, according to a press released issued Jan. 14 by DMR.

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