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N.H. Lobstermen Lament Coming Regulations To Prevent Right Whale Entanglements

NOAA Fisheries
A right whale swims entangled in fishing gear in ocean waters off New England.

New Hampshire is drafting plans for how its lobster fishery will help meet new federal goals for protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Seacoast lobstermen weighed in on the proposal at a meeting Thursday night in Portsmouth with the state Department of Fish and Game.

They’re still skeptical that their fishery poses enough of a threat to the whales to merit new regulations. And they want more details and input on the new, more easily breakable lines or gear they’ll have to use to keep whales from being entangled.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
People who work in New Hampshire's lobster fishery packed a meeting Thursday with the state Department of Fish & Game in Portsmouth.

Erik Anderson leads the New Hampshire Commercial Fishermen's Association. He's frustrated that federal regulators haven’t given those specifications yet.

“All this science that’s taking place in the background without industry really being involved is just a bunch of calculations,” Anderson says.

New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts have to submit proposals this month for how their lobster fleets will meet a collective 60 percent reduction in risk to right whales, as calculated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration models.

Fishermen wouldn’t have to begin making changes until this fall at the earliest. The three states will share $1.6 million in federal funding to help them adopt the new rules.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association said recently that it no longer supports the risk-reduction measures stakeholders agreed to last year, though ultimately, the changes are controlled by state officials.

There are only around 400 North Atlantic right whales left today, and fewer than 100 breeding females. The endangered species’ birth rate has been declining.

The whales are threatened by fishing gear, ship strikes and ocean noise. NOAA says the majority of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled in fishing gear multiple times.

The agency aims to ensure that less than one whale on average is killed by humans each year.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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