NOAA will phase in gear change rule enforcement 

ELLSWORTH — With May 1 fast approaching and with it the deadline for lobstermen to make gear changes to protect North Atlantic right whales, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that it will focus on helping fishermen comply with the new rules rather than punishing them for failing to do so in time. 

In an April 20 letter, Michael Pentony, Great Atlantic regional administrator, said that members of the agency are “working closely with our state and federal enforcement partners to implement a graduated enforcement effort that will focus on compliance assistance rather than civil penalties until we have determined that localized supply chain issues have been sufficiently resolved.” 

On Aug. 31, 2021, NOAA Fisheries announced its final rule to modify the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan to reduce the risk posed by vertical fishing lines to critically endangered right whales. There are fewer than 350 of the whales on the planet, according to estimates, and most (an estimated 85 percent) have been entangled in fishing gear at least once. The modifications include gear marking, reducing the number of vertical lines, weakening the remaining lines so entangled whales can break free and the seasonal closure of a 967-square-mile area of fishing grounds off the Maine coast. The deadline for necessary gear modifications under the rule is May 1.  

“Most participants in the Northeast lobster and Jonah crab fishery are nearly finished with the needed gear modifications and ready for the deadline,” Pentony noted. “However, unanticipated supply chain delays are preventing some of the fleet from fully coming into compliance. I want to assure fishermen who are making good faith efforts to comply with these new measures but are not able to procure compliant gear that we understand the difficulty of their situation.” 

He recognized fishermen and gear makers who have developed and tested weak ropes, links and sleeves to bring to market to comply with the new rule. Yet, he said, “the availability of compliant gear is not yet universal.” 

While the agency will work with fishermen, it did not delay implementation of the rule, something that Maine’s congressional delegation and Governor Janet Mills have pushed for. 

“As we stated in our letter to Commerce Secretary Raimondo last month, supply chain disruptions are making it impossible for Maine lobstermen and women to purchase the new gear that NOAA is requiring. NOAA’s announcement today is an acknowledgement of this reality, but falls short of honoring our reasonable request and the SBA Office of Advocacy’s recommendation to delay the implementation date. Given that the lobster gear deadline is just two weeks away, this is an urgent problem, and we will continue pushing to provide Maine’s lobster industry with as much support and flexibility as possible in complying with this unfair and onerous rule,” the Maine delegation and Mills said in a joint statement. “A better and fairer solution would be for NOAA to delay the deadline to July 1 as we have repeatedly called for.”  

Cyndi Wood

Cyndi Wood

Managing Editor
Cyndi is managing editor of The Ellsworth American. The Ellsworth native joined the staff of The American in 2007 as a reporter.

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