Gov. Janet Mills and all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation are asking the U.S. secretary of commerce to delay a May 1 deadline for the state’s lobster industry to deploy whale-friendly fishing gear, including weak ropes and links.

In a letter sent Monday to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Maine’s political leaders said the deadline will be impossible for some lobstermen to meet because the equipment is expensive and hard to procure. They are seeking a delay of 60 days.

“The economic harm imposed by the gear conversion deadline will be severe, and the scarcity of required gear is making it difficult – if not impossible – for lobstermen to achieve timely compliance,” says the letter, signed by Mills, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and U.S. Reps Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden.

They estimated that postponing the requirement until July 1 would save the lobster industry $7.3 million, while only increasing the mortality risk to right whales by 0.9 percent.

The new requirement is intended to help protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. It is part of a larger suite of regulations announced last year that include a seasonal ban on traditional lobstering in a portion of the Gulf of Maine, which took effect in November following an unsuccessful legal challenge by the lobster industry.

The new rules also call for modifications to gear marking, using state-specific colors for gear marks to better identify where a whale became entangled. Maine implemented its marking program over the summer, so its purple designation will stand.


The gear modifications required by the rule are set to take effect May 1, which is the start of the American lobster/Jonah crab fishing year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Producing about 82 percent of the country’s lobster, Maine’s lobster fishery is the largest in the United States, but fishermen say they’re not seeing the whales in Maine waters, despite bearing the brunt of the burden in the new plan.

The last known entanglement in Maine waters was in 2004 (the whale survived), but federal officials and environmental advocates say that is not evidence it’s not happening. They have said it can be extremely difficult to attribute any entanglement or mortality to a specific fishery. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that about 85 percent of all right whales show signs of entanglement.

Marine biologists have stressed that the best available science supports the new regulations, and that immediate action is needed to save the imperiled whale species.

The NOAA plan does not include measures to help prevent ship strikes or reduce mortality and serious injuries in Canadian waters, which together account for the majority of known right whale deaths.

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