Right Whale Protection

A North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod Bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass., in 2018. Maine’s political leaders say it’s impossible for lobstermen to comply with new rules that aim to protect the whales. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Maine’s congressional delegation and governor said Wednesday that the state’s lobster fishermen need more time to comply with new rules designed to protect rare whales.

The rules are designed to protect North Atlantic right whales, which number less than 340 and are vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear. The federal government is using the rules to impose new restrictions on when lobster fishermen can fish and what kinds of gear they can use.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills and the four-member delegation said one of the rules, which requires weak points in lobster lines, is essentially impossible for fishermen to comply with at this time. The rules call for gear conversion by May 1, but the new gear isn’t available to most fishermen, they said.

The officials said the rule change should be kicked back to July 1.

“The continued scarcity of required gear is making it increasingly unlikely that fishermen, despite their best efforts and those of suppliers, will be able to achieve timely compliance,” the officials said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will review the officials’ letter and provide a response as soon as possible, said Allison Ferreira, a spokesperson for the agency. She declined to comment further. NOAA is within the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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The U.S. lobster fishing industry is based largely in Maine and Massachusetts. Maine’s lobster industry set a record $725 million for the total value of lobsters brought to the docks in 2021.

Several protected zones off the East Coast that are designed to aid the rare whales are also set to expire in the coming days. The zones are voluntary slow zones meant to prevent the North Atlantic right whales from colliding with ships.

The whales have suffered high mortality in recent years and ship collisions are another of the major threats they face.

Mariners are asked to avoid the areas altogether or transit through them slowly. The first of the zones, located east of Boston, expired Tuesday. Others are located off of Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Maryland and will end within the next two weeks.

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