Scarcity of required gear is making it extremely difficult for lobstermen to meet the May 1st deadline
WASHINGTON, DC—Following repeated calls from the Maine Delegation and Governor Janet Mills, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today said that the agency is working to implement a graduated enforcement effort for fisheries that have made good faith efforts to comply with new gear regulations by the May 1 deadline. Today’s announcement comes in response to continued efforts from U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, and Governor Mills, who have urged the Biden administration to give Maine lobstermen and women more time to comply with updated gear rules in light of supply chain issues.
“As we stated in our letter to Commerce Secretary Raimondo last month, supply chain disruptions are making it impossible for Maine lobstermen and women to purchase the new gear that NOAA is requiring. NOAA’s announcement today is an acknowledgement of this reality, but falls short of honoring our reasonable request and the SBA Office of Advocacy’s recommendation to delay the implementation date. Given that the lobster gear deadline is just two weeks away, this is an urgent problem, and we will continue pushing to provide Maine’s lobster industry with as much support and flexibility as possible in complying with this unfair and onerous rule,” the Maine Delegation and Governor Mills said in a joint statement. “A better and fairer solution would be for NOAA to delay the deadline to July 1 as we have repeatedly called for.”
Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator Michael Pentony’s statement can be read online here or below.
On March 29, 2022, the Maine Delegation and Governor Mills wrote to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo urging a delay in the implementation of a component of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) new Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP) rule that requires gear modifications to lobster lines. In the letter, they highlighted the supply chain and manufacturing issues facing lobstermen and women who are trying to purchase the required gear, and stressed that the current deadline puts the lobster industry in what the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy described as an “impossible scenario.”
The Maine Delegation and Governor Mills have been steadfastly opposed to undue burdens that would threaten the lobster fishery without meaningfully protecting whales. Following the release of the final rule in late August 2021, the Maine Delegation and Governor Mills issued a statement in opposition to the rule and highlight the Maine lobster fishery’s record of repeatedly making significant improvements to their practices and modifications to their gear to protect right whales. In October 2021, they wrote to Secretary Raimondo to urge her to rescind the rule, and in February 2022 called for a postponement of the rule due to difficulties lobstermen and women were having obtaining the necessary gear. The Maine Delegation also secured $14.1 million in the fiscal year 2022 government funding law to help Maine’s lobster industry comply with the rule.
As we announced last fall in our final rule to implement new measures to protect North Atlantic right whales, the deadline for Northeast lobster and Jonah crab fishermen to make the necessary gear modifications is May 1, 2022. These regulations are critical to protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whale and keeping this valuable and important fishery open for business. Most participants in the Northeast lobster and Jonah crab fishery are nearly finished with the needed gear modifications and ready for the deadline. However, unanticipated supply chain delays are preventing some of the fleet from fully coming into compliance. I want to assure fishermen who are making good faith efforts to comply with these new measures but are not able to procure compliant gear that we understand the difficulty of their situation. We are working closely with our state and federal enforcement partners to implement a graduated enforcement effort that will focus on compliance assistance rather than civil penalties until we have determined that localized supply chain issues have been sufficiently resolved.
I would like to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of fishermen, gear experts, and manufacturers who have developed and tested numerous weak links, sleeves, and ropes that comply with the 2021 modifications to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. We would also like to express our great appreciation to the many fishermen who have already or are now modifying their gear to reduce the risk of entanglements. Nevertheless, the availability of compliant gear is not yet universal. NOAA Fisheries is closely monitoring the challenges that some Northeast lobster and Jonah crab trap/pot fishermen are facing in their effort to comply with weak rope measures.
New England fishermen have been in the forefront of efforts to design weak rope and weak inserts. Nearly every weak rope and weak insert that has been approved for use under the new regulations was designed by, or developed in collaboration with, fishermen. They have fished with weak inserts in state waters since state regulations were implemented in the spring of 2021. Offshore fishermen, led by the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, have sourced larger diameter weak ropes and are now conducting field testing to ensure they retain dimensions that can be used in offshore haulers without jamming. Availability continues to be a challenge despite these persistent and collaborative efforts, many initiated in early 2019.
At the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, we are committed to continuing to message urgency to rope and weak link producers and to monitor the supply challenges closely. We will also remain in close communication with fishermen as well as with New England state managers, the Northeast Office of Law Enforcement, and our state and federal enforcement partners. I will continue to work with state fishery managers to ensure that both North Atlantic right whales and the valuable lobster fishery have a long and healthy future.