Washington, D.C. —Yesterday, in a letter to Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Dr. Neil Jacobs, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Jared Golden (D-ME) expressed their concern about the ongoing North Atlantic right whale take reduction efforts and their significant impact on the Maine lobster industry. The delegation urged National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) leadership to ensure that the science they are relying on is sound and comprehensive, the risk reduction standards are equitable across U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions, and the industry is included and consulted throughout the decision-making process.
“As you are aware, Maine fisheries officials and stakeholders have been actively engaged on the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team and in correspondence with NOAA Fisheries, with the primary objective of providing the most relevant data possible to ensure that the resulting measures target areas of high risk and yield conservation benefits possible for right whales,” wrote the members of the Maine Delegation. “We have been closely monitoring these developments and appreciate the opportunity to raise with you some concerns that are of great ecological and economic importance.”
“We look forward to continuing to work with your agency toward a science-informed and equitable solution that protects the fragile right whale population without unfairly or disproportionately burdening the Maine lobster industry,” continued the Maine Delegation.
The letter raises several concerns with NOAA’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, including:
- Differing Standards: A key component of the consensus agreement from the April ALWTRT meeting was that each state or Lobster Conservation Management Area (LCMA) achieve a 60 percent risk reduction in their respective jurisdiction. While lobstermen and regulators in Maine have put forward a plan to reduce the fleet’s vertical lines by 50 percent, other states and lobster fishing areas have not done the same. The delegation believes it is unfair and untenable for states to be held to differing standards and NOAA must ensure equity across all fleets and states in LCMA-1 as well as between all LCMAs.
- Shared Responsibility Between U.S. and Canada: When attributing the serious injury and mortality to gear of unknown origin, NOAA Fisheries’ methodology assumes that the risk in U.S. and Canadian waters is the same – despite strong scientific and empirical evidence to the contrary. The risk reduction target and management measures used to reduce risk to whales should more accurately reflect the proportion of entanglements seen in the data related to each country.
- Decision Support Tool: NOAA Fisheries opted to conduct a poll of the ALWTRT members to calculate the severity of risk posed to whales by different types of gear in lieu of using existing datasets. The tool also appears to be extremely sensitive to the
seseverity scores. A peer review process would help ensure that the tool is accurately guiding these significant policy changes. Therefore, the delegation urged NOAA to put the Decision Support Tool through a peer review process.
Click HERE to read the letter.