NOAA whale framework catches fire from fishermen and environmentalists
BAR PORT – A framework released by the National Marine Fisheries Service last month that calls for reducing the risk to the endangered North Atlantic right whale in federal fisheries has been criticized by both conservationists and lobster fishers alike, though that for different reasons.
The framework was included in the service’s long-awaited biological advisory and calls for a cumulative 98 percent risk reduction to whales over the next 10 years.
The exact measures to ensure this reduction have not yet been determined and are expected later this year, but conservationists have strongly criticized the 10-year schedule, which they say is far too slow and out of line. to the rules of the law on the protection of marine mammals.
“Much of the conservation community believes that the timeline that NOAA has set in the bio-operation may not legally hold,” said Zack Klyver, scientific director of Blue Planet Strategies.
Klyver and other conservationists have said that under the law, the federal government is supposed to put in place a plan that will reduce the number of potential deaths to almost zero per year within six months, but the plan of the fisheries department only succeeds after several years.
“What they suggested is to start much higher and bring it down to zero over a 10-year period,” he said.
Klyver looked for opportunities to test potential cordless fishing with hybrid offshore trawls and hoped some fishermen might be open to it as new rules were put in place.
The Fisheries Department was ordered by a federal court to issue a new organic opinion because the fisheries were in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Notice is needed to keep the fishery open.
The NMFS opinion and the proposed rules were troubling to Regina Asmustis-Silvia, executive director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
She estimated that NMFS was playing with a species that has fewer than 400 individuals.
“It’s like trying to get out of debt by buying lottery tickets for the next 10 years,” she said.
Asmustis-Silvia was also concerned that the NMFS was only looking at federal fisheries and not state fisheries, even though she said they had the power to do so, and was concerned that some of the framework’s proposals might not be. proven and can widen the gap between fishermen and environmentalists even further.
“They will do things that will impact the fishing industry, but don’t know if it will benefit right whales,” she said.
Sharon Young, Humane Society’s director of marine affairs for the United States, called the biological opinion “disappointing” and “inadequate.”
Members of the Maine lobster industry argued they were not responsible for the decline of right whales and felt they were unfairly punished by onerous regulations.
Rules proposed in the framework include adding more traps to each line of buoy to reduce the number of vertical lines, inserting weak links in the ropes so that entangled whales can break free, restrictions on certain areas fishing during times when whales should be around and the use of color-coded rope to identify the origin of gear found entangled on whales – a practice Maine has already adopted.
The service is expected to finalize the rules later this year.
Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen Association, appreciated that the biological advice was delivered on time, but was extremely concerned about the assumptions of the NMFS projections.
“They assume all the worst (scenarios),” she said. “There is nothing in there to allow conditions to improve.”
She also said the report held Maine fishermen responsible for threats from Canada and strikes by other vessels.
McCarron was happy to see that there was an assessment process in the 10-year plan, which could give fishermen more leeway if things go well.
“The fact that they are talking about adaptive management is positive,” she said. “They will potentially have new data and some of it could be rectified.”
But if fully implemented, she feared for the future of lobster fishing in Maine.
“The fishery as we know it will not exist if all of these phases are implemented,” she said.
Governor Janet Mills also raised concerns about the NMFS report, and state Department of Marine Resources commissioner Patrick Keliher sent out an opinion FAQ to fishermen last week.
“The good news is that the Bi-Op has a safe conclusion and was released ahead of the court-ordered deadline of May 31, allowing federal fisheries to continue operating under the endangered species), ”he wrote. “Unfortunately, the Bi-Op describes a series of risk reductions over the next 10 years that will have a significant impact on the lobster fishery… In total, the Bi-Op calls for a risk reduction of 98 percent in 10 years, which only means one thing – a complete reinvention of fishing as we know it.