Maine’s primary trade group for the lobster fishing industry has rethought its position on a plan to protect the right whale population.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) said in a news release that it is encouraged by the response it recently received from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Fisheries division, which helps administer recreational and commercial fishing.
“MLA is pleased that NOAA has taken our concerns seriously,” the release states. It goes on to say the MLA remains committed to the Take Reduction Team (TRT) process, an April agreement that aims to reduce risk to the right whale population.
In August, the MLA announced its intent to withdraw from the process, citing a review of data available from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal regulator of the industry.
The NMFS data showed the Maine lobster fishing industry was far less harmful to right whales than ship strikes, gillnets and the Canadian snow crab fishing industry.
Since taking its concerns to NOAA Fisheries, the MLA hopes the full spectrum of risks to right whales has become more transparent.
“Going forward, MLA will continue to insist on a science-based process informed by best available data to ensure rigorous accountability for risk to endangered whales from across the spectrum of human interactions with them,” the release said.
It added that this should help remedy “the disproportionate focus on the Northeast lobster fishery.”
MLA also found, “NOAA Fisheries’ willingness to address concerns related to underlying data and analysis lays the groundwork for progress that all stakeholders will welcome,” the release said.
Any new measures to protect right whales must go through rule-making procedures. State regulators are expected to hold public hearings before the end of the year. NOAA subsequently is expected to issue formal rules.
“MLA continues to work diligently with our members and in close collaboration with Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to identify management approaches that are both effective in minimizing risk to whales and proportionate to the risk from Maine fishery gear,” the release said.