NOAA acknowledges shortage of gear to protect whales

April 21, 2022 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The federal government is acknowledging that supply chain issues will prevent all lobstermen from having gear needed to protect North Atlantic right whales before a May 1 deadline.

The rules will still go into effect on that date, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it will use a “graduated enforcement effort” until supply problems are resolved.

Maine’s congressional delegation and governor said they were disappointed that NOAA didn’t simply delay the rules.

“A better and fairer solution would be for NOAA to delay the deadline to July 1 as we have repeatedly called for,” they said in a statement.

The rules require lobstermen to start using weakened rope or special inserts to weaken existing rope in some waters.

That’s to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales by preventing them from becoming entangled. North Atlantic right whales number fewer than 340.

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Most participants in the lobster fishery are already in compliance but “the availability of compliant gear is not yet universal,” Michael Pentony, NOAA Fisheries’ regional administrator, wrote in a letter.

For example, lobstermen who fish far offshore in deeper waters are currently testing a large-diameter rope with weak links, Pentony said.

The graduated enforcement “will focus on compliance assistance rather than civil penalties until we have determined that localized supply chain issues have been sufficiently resolved,” he said.