ELLSWORTH — Now that new federal regulations are in place to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whales from entanglement with fishing lines, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has drafted revisions to state lobster and crab fishing laws to implement the changes.
For Chapter 75, Protected Resources Compliance with Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, the proposed changes align with gear marking, fishing ropes, weak links in fishing rope, the minimum number of traps per trawl and the seasonal closure of Lobster Management Area 1. For Chapter 25, Lobster and Crab Fishing, proposed changes to Zone B increase the trawl limit from a maximum of three traps per line to five traps from 3 to 12 nautical miles from shore.
A remote public hearing is scheduled for March 15 at 5 p.m. for Chapter 75 and 5:30 p.m. for Chapter 25.
“These changes are routine in nature to implement such a large federal mandate,” Maine Lobstering Union member and Deer Isle lobsterman Virginia Olsen said. “However, we, the MLU, do not feel the goal of a 98 percent reduction is a way the Maine lobster industry can survive moving forward. We feel more real-time science needs to be done and the restrictions put in place to date need to be reviewed for effectiveness before additional restrictions are implemented.”
The 2021 Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan affects lobster and crab fisheries in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, requiring a 60 percent reduction in vertical fishing lines, new rope designs and/or the insertion of weak links into ropes, the seasonal closure of 967 square miles off the coast in Maine’s Lobster Management Area 1, and gear markings to identify where whales became entangled. However, a future 98 percent reduction is under consideration, as Olsen mentioned.
Since 2019, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries first started discussing proposed changes, Maine lobstermen and their advocates, from the state’s congressional delegation to the DMR, Maine Lobstermen’s Association and Maine Lobstering Union, have struggled against the encroaching regulations. At risk, they say, is a major economic driver of the state and the livelihood of the more than 4,500 lobstermen commercially licensed in Maine who claim that whales have moved on from Maine waters.
“I don’t think any lobstermen don’t think that whales have the right to live. Whether we are bothering them or not is the question,” Blue Hill lobsterman Jay Marsh told the Islander last August.
While the federal rules come with a May 1 implementation deadline, Governor Janet Mills has asked Congress for a two-month delay to address supply shortages of the new equipment needed for lobstermen to comply. In addition, the DMR has invested legal resources in three federal lawsuits against the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service and was granted intervenor status in one, brought by the Maine Lobstering Association.
“The Governor and I will continue to defend Maine’s lobster industry in these lawsuits,” DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher stated, “and as commissioner, I have assigned significant staff to work on this issue to ensure we are well prepared on both the legal and regulatory front.”
Comments on the proposed changes may be submitted to DMR through March 28 at [email protected]; writing to Attn: Rulemaking, 21 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-002, calling 441-5319; or faxing 624-6024.
To attend the virtual meeting by telephone, call 209-4724 using conference ID 891 374 641#. To attend through Microsoft Teams, see Meetings and Events at www.maine.gov/dmr.