Collins proposes reforms to support Maine lobster industry, protect whales

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) proposed changes to federal reforms that would protect whales and support the Maine lobster industry.

Sen. Collins joined her congressional colleagues from Maine in jointly responding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) call for input to develop modifications to the proposed regulations developed by NOAA’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (TRT).

In a letter sent on Tuesday to the NOAA TRT team, the delegation recommended measures that would help reduce right whale fatalities without threatening the lobster industry, including more Maine-specific gear markings, improved monitoring, support for the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ proposal to preserve the current regulatory exemptions line, and the state’s plan to improve data collection.

“Over the last several months, we have had a number of conversations with lobstermen, the scientific community, environmentalists, and state regulators,” Sen. Collins and the members wrote in their letter. “The message has been undeniably clear: these whales require increased protections in order to ensure the viability of the species — and that focusing all of our risk reduction efforts on Maine’s lobster fishery will not get us there.”

The members added that Maine lobstermen “stand ready to take reasonable measures to help protect right whales and reduce entanglements,” and that they’ve already taken numerous steps to protect right whales and reduce their risk of entanglements.

“Those actions include the adoption of weak links in rope in 1997, gear marking in 2002, the use of sinking ground lines in 2009, and vertical line reductions in 2014,” wrote Sen. Collins and her colleagues. “There have been no entanglements directly attributed to Maine gear in nearly 15 years.”

Their letter has the support of the Maine Lobstering Union, Local 207, and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.