Maine counters NMFS rejection of right whale plan

Published on
February 14, 2020

Maine officials said that the National Marine Fisheries Service’s rejection of its submitted right whale plan didn’t take enough of the state’s efforts into account.

The NMFS rejected the state's plan via letter earlier this week. According to NMFS, the state’s plan only reduces risk to right whales by roughly 52 percent, short of the 60 percent that the Take Reduction Team was aiming for.

That finding means that the state’s plans – which include weak points in ropes, vertical-line reductions, and gear markings – don’t go far enough and that the NMFS will “be obligated to consider additional measures through our federal rule-making,” the letter said.

However, Maine's Marine Resource Commissioner Patrick Keliher said to the Lobster Advisory Council at a meeting Wednesday that he believes the state’s plan isn’t being given enough credit, and that past efforts by Maine haven’t been taken into account, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Keliher wrote a letter to the Michael Pentony, the NMFS regional administrator that wrote the letter rejecting Maine’s plan, requesting that the plan be reexamined, and take into account measures that weren't factored into the calculation

Among those measures not included in the risk calculation are a weak point required in exempt waters to address potential right whale transits in the area, even though its unlikely. 

It also pointed out that the state already has existing measures in place, such as requiring no float rope on the surface, no wet storage of gear, and a measure that requires either:

  1. All buoys be attached to a buoy line with a weak link having a breaking strength no greater than 600 pounds.
  2. All buoy lines made entirely of sinking line.
  3. All ground lines made entirely of sinking line. 

“We respectfully request that credit be assigned to these proposed and existing risk-reduction measures as NOAA Fisheries evaluates the proposal that Maine has submitted,” Keliher wrote. "We welcome the opportunity to continue working with your staff as NOAA prepares the proposed regulations and quantifies the risk reduction associated with Maine's full suite of measures."

The state’s lobstermen have already come out against Maine’s plan for being too strict, and was “disappointed” that the NMFS rejected it.

“The Maine Lobstermen’s Association is very disappointed that NMFS continues to ignore some of the most pressing human threats to right whales, and that they continue to look solely to the lobster fishery as the whale population continues to decline,” MLA Executive Director Patrice McCarron told SeafoodSource in the wake of the NMFS rejection. “We think the DMR plan is very aggressive, and layering more on top of that will result in more hardships for lobstermen, rather than help right whales.”

The NMFS rejection isn’t the only issue looming on the horizon for the state’s lobster fishery. A court case filed by environmentalists, which a federal judge allowed to proceed in late 2019, is still ongoing. That lawsuit claims that the U.S. government didn’t go far enough to protect right whales. If the judge agrees with the environmentalist’s lawsuit, that could result in a new set of rules.  

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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