PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s proposal for protecting endangered right whales from entanglements in lobster gear would maintain the status quo for inshore waters where most traps are located while reducing the number of trap lines farther offshore, officials said Friday.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources submitted the proposal to the federal government, which plans to issue new rules in the spring or summer for protecting North Atlantic right whales. The whales number only about 400 and are vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear.
The proposal would make no change to an inshore area that comprises more than two-thirds of state waters, while total trap lines would be reduced farther offshore.
The proposal would also set requirements for “weak” points in trap lines that would allow an entangled whale to break free and require unique color markings to differentiate Maine lobster lines from trap lines used by fishermen from other states.
The rules come at a time when lobstermen are concerned about a drop in the catch of the state’s signature seafood.
Maine’s lobster haul was about 40 percent off last year’s pace through September. But the catch picked up before year’s end, said Jeff Nichols, spokesman for the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said the proposed rules aren’t much different from the rules proposed a few months ago that lobstermen decried as unfair and burdensome.
Maine lobstermen are being asked to shoulder a heavy burden even though data show they represent a “small portion” of the risk to right whales, especially compared to Canadian lobstermen, he said.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources tweaked its October proposal to balance the needs of lobstermen while protecting the whales, Nichols said.
“We were able to put together a plan that we believe both protects whales and protects the interests of the lobster industry,” he said.
The populations of North Atlantic right whales were decimated during the whaling era generations ago, and today they face threats including entanglement in commercial fishing equipment, ship strikes and climate change.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service will review Maine’s submission along with proposals from other New England states and will determine whether those measures reach the risk reduction target for right whales, said Kate Swails, agency spokeswoman.
Watch: This right whale gets partially disentangled off Cape Cod