Federal regulators are delaying the release of long-awaited regulations designed to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The proposed regulations would push lobstermen throughout much of the Gulf of Maine to reduce their buoy lines, which have caused fatal entanglements for the whales. They were were expected to be issued by early 2020.
In a filing in federal court in Washington D.C., on Wednesday, federal officials with the National Atmospheric and Oceanagraphic Administration (NOAA) said the process was stalled as they awaited proposals from a number of states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Conservationists say they're worried about how the delay could affect North Atlantic right whales, as their population dwindles to about 400.
“It makes sense that there’s administrative difficulty in trying to get everything in place,” said Stormy Mayo, director of the right whale ecology program at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. “But from a conservation point of view, it’s beginning to be desperate.”
July 2020 is now the "expected date for the publication of a proposed rule," according to a NOAA spokesperson.
While six North Atlantic right whale calves born this year are a hopeful sign, Mayo said, more regulations and ultimately the introduction of ropeless fishing will be needed for the population to recover.
“The problem is that the situation with right whales isn’t getting better,” Mayo said. “And the boundary between a functioning population and extinction is pretty paper thin.”