Maine’s top marine official has told the federal government that his state deserves more credit for the efforts it has made to try to save an endangered species of whale.
Maine is tasked with coming up with new regulations that make the oceans safer for North Atlantic right whales, which number only about 400 in the world. The proposed protections would place restrictions on the lobster fishery, which is critical to Maine’s economy and heritage.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration informed Maine in January that its proposal to protect the whales doesn’t go far enough.
But Patrick Keliher, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, sent a letter to NOAA on Wednesday that outlined numerous existing and additional proposed protections that he said play a key role in protecting the whales.
“Existing regulations provide additional risk reduction” within inshore waters, Keliher wrote.
The state has proposed a new rule that requires trap lines to have weak points in inshore waters, Keliher wrote. The weak points would make it easier for the whales to escape a potential entanglement in the lines.
Also, the state already enforces other protections in inshore waters, such as banning lobster fishermen from using ropes that float at the surface of the water, Keliher wrote.
NOAA has received Keliher’s letter and is reviewing it, said Jennifer Goebel, a spokeswoman for the agency. The state spent months meeting with lobster fishermen about its whale proposal, which NOAA has said must reduce risk to whales by 60 percent. The state’s current plan achieves only a 52 percent reduction in risk, NOAA has informed Maine. That proposal is in addition to existing rules, and it focuses heavily on offshore waters.
Many Maine lobstermen have said the proposal puts too much emphasis on their industry and not enough on other risk factors, such as ship strikes.
“You know that ship strikes are a problem,” said Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “We’re the only ones being targeted.”
Conservation groups have put a focus on right whales recently because the whales’ population has declined in the wake of high mortality and poor reproduction.