Washington, D.C.—In response to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) favoring the shipping industry over the lobster industry in its attempts to reduce the risk of right whale deaths, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden wrote to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to express their opposition to imposing stricter regulations on fishermen compared to other groups.
Since 2019, there were six documented right whale deaths due to vessel strikes. NOAA recently proposed expanding the current mandatory seasonal vessel speed restrictions of 10 knots or fewer in designated ocean areas, which would reduce the risk of vessel strikes by only 27.5 percent. By contrast, NOAA is moving forward with implementing an onerous and unnecessary lobster gear rule that would purportedly reduce the risk of right whale mortalities by nearly 90 percent, even though there has never been a single right whale death or serious injury attributed to Maine’s lobster industry.
“[T]this rule imposes different requirements on vessel traffic than it does commercial fisheries,” the Maine Delegation wrote. “Through this proposed rule, it is clear that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is holding Maine’s lobster industry to a much more stringent standard than other sectors…We encourage NMFS to take a hard look at the disparate regulatory treatment of vessel traffic and commercial fisheries before moving forward with additional rules for both sectors.”
In their letter, the Maine Delegation outlined the numerous steps that Maine lobstermen have taken to reduce risks to right whales, and they renewed their push for NOAA to work with its Canadian counterpart to protect this fragile population. They also pointed out a number of contradictions of the new rule. For instance, unlike the lobster gear rule, which is based on estimated rather than confirmed deaths caused by entanglements, the vessel speed rule is confined to documented mortalities caused by ship strikes. Moreover, the vessel speed rule will not apply to the Gulf of Maine. Ironically, this amounts to a tacit admission that Maine waters pose a low risk to right whales.
The Maine Delegation also asked NOAA several pointed questions to explain these discrepancies.
Click HERE to read the letter.