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December 24, 2019

Feds inject $1.6M to support whale protection, and fishermen

Courtesy / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration The federal government is allocating $1.6 million support the recovery of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and support fishermen impacted by those actions.

A total of $1.6 million in new federal funds will do double duty: supporting the recovery of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and supporting fishermen impacted by those pending actions.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funds will be available through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, according to a news release.

The money will add to current funding levels that support reducing the risk of entanglement of right whales in fishing gear while assisting the lobster fishing industry in adapting to the impacts of new measures.

Details remain to be worked out.

In addition, Maine’s Congressional delegation last week sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross urging him to take action to protect Maine’s lobster industry from unfairly burdensome regulations as the U.S. seeks to protect the right whale population.

“The Maine lobster fishery has repeatedly made significant improvements to their practices and modifications to their gear to protect right whales, including the implementation of weak link mandates in 1997 and again in 2007,” U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine 1st District, and Jared Golden, D-Maine 2nd District, wrote.

“Notably, there have been no entanglements directly attributed to Maine lobster gear in more than 15 years. Further, National Marine Fisheries Service data demonstrates that ropes removed from right whales in recent years are not typical of those used in Maine’s lobster fishery.”

Last past summer, eight dead right whales were observed in the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence, representing the deaths of roughly 2% of the remaining population, the letter continued.  

“It has been incredibly frustrating for Maine lobstermen to see that, after implementing multiple effective mitigation measures over the past two decades, they continue to be the primary target of NOAA’s burdensome regulations,” the letter said. “NOAA’s own data identify a number of other sources that contribute to North Atlantic right whale entanglements and serious injury and morality, including ship strikes and Canadian snow crab gear, the latter of which has entangled and killed at least 14 North Atlantic right whales.”

The delegation listed policies the Commerce Department should pursue that would protect right whales while factoring in the true risk posed by various marine industries, including:

• Resolve the territorial dispute of the “Gray Zone” surrounding Machias Seal Island to eliminate confusing, contrasting fishing regulations;

• Evaluate whether a potential emergency rulemaking is warranted to ban Canadian snow crab fisheries from exporting fish to the U.S. under the Marine Mammal Protection Act due to evidence that their industry is a chief contributor to right whale entanglements and mortalities;

• Address ship strikes, which play a substantial role in the right whale population’s decline;

• Reconsider “trawling up” requirements that set minimums on the number of traps per buoy line, which creates increased safety risks to crew members;

• Incorporate feedback from Maine lobstermen to address their serious safety concerns associated with the proposed placement of weak links in the endlines, which in their current proposed form would result in weak links routinely being stressed to or beyond their breaking points during typical fishing activity.

In the midst of these latest activities, a new right whale calf was spotted off Sapelo Island, Ga. The calf is the first one observed during the 2019-20 calving season, according to a news release. There are fewer than 100 breeding females. Since 2017, 30 North Atlantic right whales have been confirmed dead in U.S. and Canadian waters. 

Courtesy / Oceana
The first right whale calf of the breeding season was spotted off the Georgia coast last week.


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