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News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 10, 2022 and The Weekly Packet, November 10, 2022
MLA assails inadequate and inequitable vessel speed rule

Courtesy Of Kevin Kelley, Director Of Advancement Maine Lobstermen’s Association

In official comments submitted recently, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association called on the federal government to apply the law fairly as it develops new rules that would protect North Atlantic right whales from vessel strikes—which are known to have killed multiple endangered whales in U.S. waters in recent years, according to a press release.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed expanding the current mandatory seasonal speed restrictions of 10 knots or less in designated areas of the ocean and requiring most vessels measuring 35 to 65 feet in length to comply.

Though MLA supports the proposed measures in the speed rule, it objects to NOAA’s continuing pattern of over-regulating U.S. commercial fisheries and under-regulating other sectors, leaving endangered whales inadequately protected from deadly human interactions, the release states.

For more than a decade, the Maine lobster fishery has been in near full compliance of the federal whale conservation plan and caused zero observed mortality or serious injury to right whales. In contrast, compliance with the existing vessel speed regulations has been poor and the number of vessel strikes has not been meaningfully reduced, with four observed U.S. vessel strikes in U.S. waters from 2020 to 2021.

Despite these facts, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposes to reduce current vessel strike risk by a mere 27.5 percent while, at the same time, continues working to accelerate a plan to reduce estimated fishery “risk” to 90 percent by requiring a new suite of measures on top of those implemented for the 2022 fishing season. NMFS justifies its draconian risk reduction mandate for commercial fisheries as necessary to meet the standard established under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), but its proposed vessel strike rule makes no effort to achieve the MMPA standard.

“Maine’s lobster industry is highly invested in doing its part to ensure that right whales recover. But the whales cannot recover unless NMFS holds all potential causes of harm to the same risk reduction standard,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “That standard is clear—vessel strikes must achieve a 75% risk reduction to comply with the MMPA yet NMFs proposes to reduce risk by 27.5%. Yet the agency seems to have no issue holding the fishing industry to that standard which requires a 90% risk reduction which will devastate the lobster industry.”

“This arbitrary application of the law is causing the fishing industry to suffer disproportionate harm and failing to adequately reduce risk from vessel traffic. The Proposed Rule falls short and reflects an arbitrary, disparate treatment of vessel traffic and commercial fisheries,” MLA writes in its comment to NOAA.