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NOAA proposes measures to reduce dangers to right whales

December 30, 2020 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is proposing a reduction in lobster trap lines and state-specific markings for fishing gear as part of a plan to reduce the number of entanglements involving endangered right whales in New England waters.

NOAA released its proposal Wednesday after telling the state of Maine this year that its proposal didn’t go far enough to protect the whales. The goal is to reduce the risk to whales by 60%.

North Atlantic right whales number only about 360 and are in the midst of a worrisome decline in population.

“Saving this species will take decisive action from all stakeholders — state and federal government, fishermen, conservationists, and scientists,” the New England Aquarium right whale team said in a statement.

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Under the NOAA plan, the number of lobster trap lines would be reduced by requiring more traps per line, and gear would be marked with state-specific colors to identify gear if a whale becomes entangled.

Also, weak points that allow a line to break if a whale becomes entangled would be required in virtually all waters from Maine to Rhode Island, even in waters where they are now exempted.

Finally, the proposal would modify existing seasonally restricted areas and create two new restricted areas to allow fishing using ropeless technology. The emerging technology is costly, and many fishermen are skeptical.

NOAA announced that it’s opening the plan for public comment on the proposal starting on Thursday.

Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said the agency will be reviewing the plan and offering comments “after we have had an opportunity to conduct a thorough evaluation.”