via NOAA Fisheries

ME - Lobstermen React to Proposed NOAA Rule

ELLSWORTH — At what cost does saving the North Atlantic right whale come?

A Jan. 20 public meeting on the latest proposal to reduce the risk of whale entanglements in fishing lines focused on northern and eastern Maine lobster fishing. The virtual meeting continued discussions between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and lobstermen that began in 2019. The Maine Department of Marine Resources submitted its own risk-reduction proposal in January 2020 that NOAA said did not fully meet its goals.

At this latest meeting, local lobstermen echoed similar concerns they aired when discussions started two years ago: NOAA is relying on incomplete and outdated data, and fishermen are not seeing right whales in Maine waters. NOAA scientists agree that more data would be useful.

“We don’t have a lot of recent data to let us know that they’re not still going there,” said Colleen Coogan, a NOAA biologist who is part of its whale Take Reduction Team (TRT). “Maine has been working pretty aggressively trying to get more data.”

NOAA relies on whale habitat density data reported by the Navy and used by a Duke University-developed model. The agency also uses its own model that calculates the rate of co-occurrence, when right whales and lobstermen are in the same area at the same time, elevating the risk of entanglements. Data also is gathered from plane sightings, although NOAA runs few flights over the Gulf of Maine, favoring areas with a higher whale density.

“The data model results [lead us] to look at locations that show up as being areas of concern,” NOAA Fisheries research biologist Burton Shank said. “We’re really looking closely to see if that spatial distribution has changed.”

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