The federal government has committed $1.6 million dollars to help fishermen offset new regulations designed to protect North Atlantic right whales from entanglement in trap/pot gear.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has already committed about $9.4 million towards right whale recovery efforts, but lobstermen have long said they want to help protect the critically endangered species, but they’re weary of the costs to the industry.
Jennifer Goebel, a public affairs officer with NOAA, says these new funds are specifically geared towards helping lobstermen.
“We will be looking into helping fishermen defray the cost of things we already know work, like decreased breaking strength vertical lines, and we’ll also be looking into funding other things like ropless gear,” she said.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will work with Maine lobstermen to develop a proposal on how to spend the money. It will be up to the Commission, Goebel noted, to decide whether Massachusetts lobstermen will be involved in the development of that proposal.
In April, the federal Large Whale Take Reduction team developed a plan calling for Massachusetts and New Hampshire to remove 30 percent of vertical buoy lines from the water. Maine was taskted with reducicing its lines by 50 percent.
These federal funds, Goebel said, will help lobstermen reach those goals.
“North Atlantic Right whales are some of the most critically endangered whales in the world... and we are very committed both to saving right whales and ensuring we have a healthy and sustainable lobster fishery,” she said.
The first north atlantic right whale calf of the season was seen earlier this week off Georgia, an encouraging sign for a population that has dropped to around 400.