In a letter to the U.S. commerce secretary, Gov. Janet Mills is condemning new federal rules for lobstermen that aim to protect endangered whales from entanglement in fishing gear. And she’s calling for a delay in a gear-marking requirement she says could cost the industry more than $30 million over the next year.
The federal rules include a requirement that lobstermen who set traps in federal waters put green markings on their trap-rope. That’s to help identify the source of gear that’s removed from entangled whales.
But it creates a new cost — in time and money — for lobstermen who fish in both federal and state waters that lie closer to shore, where a different requirement for purple marking already went into effect this summer.
Stonington lobsterman Robert Hardy fishes in both jurisdictions, and he said he’ll likely need to set different fishing rigs for each one.
“I think everywhere we did three feet of purple. Now we have to have an additional foot of green. And it’s got to be able to come out when you come into state waters, so in order to make that interchangeable you’re going to have to have two sets of gear,” Hardy said.
Hardy said that the expense of new rope may not be prohibitive, but there’s significant time-cost to marking it and swapping it out as well. That’s on top of other changes the feds are requiring, like weaving weak links into the rope that could help whales break through and avoid entanglement.
“If that was going to be it, it would be fine, but it’s like every year or two you’ve got to do a whole additional change in markings … and rope configurations, and trawl configurations. If we could just get from one year to the next with all the same rigging it would be a blessing,” Hardy said.
The gear rules issued late last month were developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is overseen by the Department of Commerce. In her letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Mills said the marking requirement is “alarmingly different” than what NOAA had initially indicated.
The state is estimating the value of new gear and labor at $9 million. Her marine resources commissioner, Patrick Keliher, spoke about the issue on “Maine Calling” Thursday.
“Frankly they pulled a fast one on us by creating additional requirements to gear marking. And then the timing of those gear-markings become operationally difficult,” Keliher said.
The timing is bad, Keliher said, because the new gear-marks are required as of May 1, before the time of year when fishermen tend to pull their traps out of federal waters to bring them closer to shore.
This could force them to pull their gear a month or more earlier in order to have time to bring it to port, reconfigure it and get it back in the water. Industry officials have said lobster prices are usually quite high in March and April, and federal license holders could miss out on as much as $25 million in lobster landings while their gear is out of service.
Mills said at the least, NOAA should delay the effective date of the marking requirement. NOAA officials say they are reviewing the request. Keliher said that in addition to asking for that delay, the administration is working with Maine’s congressional delegation to examine the possibility of financial assistance for lobstermen as well.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.