A North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Massachusetts, March 28, 2018. Credit: Michael Dwyer | AP

Federal regulators are scheduling a series of public hearings on proposed new fishing-gear rules that aim to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale from potentially deadly entanglements.

The controversial rules could force Maine lobstermen to remove from the water half the rope they use to haul their traps, and to use rope that would break more easily. Conservationists have said the rules are needed to avert the whale’s potential extinction.

Colleen Coogan, the coordinator for whale-protection efforts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s North Atlantic fisheries bureau, said NOAA wants to know how the new rules would affect marine ecosystems and animals, including whales. But she said officials are also looking for fishermen’s views on how their operations and businesses might be affected by specific gear changes.

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“So, for instance, if we’re asking them to increase their gear marking, maybe putting a large three-foot-long mark on the top two fathoms of their buoy line: would that be something they do at the dock and bring out with them? Is that something they’d do while at sea? How hard would that be to do, how much time it would take, what do they think the cost to them would be?” Coogan said.

The first “scoping” meeting in Maine is scheduled for the evening of Aug. 12 at the University of Maine at Machias, with subsequent meetings that week in Ellsworth, Waldoboro and Portland.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.