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Department of 
Marine Resources

For Immediate Release                                                                                                  Contact:  Terry Stockwell
August 2, 2001                                                                                               
                                      (207) 207-633-9556

Maine Department of Marine Resources
Begins Implementation of State Large Whale Take Reduction Plan

HALLOWELL, ME – The Maine Department of Marine Resources, in collaboration with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Down East Lobstermen’s Association and the Maine Gillnetter’s Association, announces the implementation of the State of Maine Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.  The Department and fishing industry’s goal is to fully protect all Large Whales, while at the same time fully protecting the economic and operational realities of Maine’s commercial fisheries.

While this spring set a record with thirty right whale calves observed born (four have since died), in 2000 there were seven confirmed sightings of right whales entangled in fishing gear.  Unfortunately one of these entangled whales was observed dead, although the carcass was never recovered and the exact cause of death unknown.  So far this year there have been three right whales observed entangled in gear.  One whale has since been observed gear free, one not yet disentangled despite many attempts, and one recently successfully disentangled. 

As a result of ongoing litigations with the Conservation Law Foundation and the Humane Society, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently published Biological Opinions for the sink-gillnet, lobster, dogfish and monkfish fisheries.  These opinions conclude that the current Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan “may not relieve the likelihood of jeopardy to right whales given the measures are new, they are not yet applicable to all areas where right whale distribution overlaps with gear, and even the loss of one right whale may reduce appreciably the survival and recovery of the species.” 

At the same time, in order to comply with the requirements of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, NMFS also proposed rulemaking for a “Reasonable and Prudent Alternative” that will establish seasonal area management, dynamic area management, and additional gear modifications.  The draft rule is due September 30, 2001 for implementation on January 1, 2002.  Within this rule, NMFS will determine which fishing gear type or modification will be allowed to be fished near aggregations of whales as a part of the seasonal and dynamic management area measures.  If a restricted area is established, NMFS may require use of heavily modified gear or the removal of all gear from the area.  

Department of Marine Resources staff and the Maine fishing industry spent the last several years developing an alternative Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.  It was first presented to NMFS at the May 2000 Take Reduction Team meeting and slightly modified over this past year.  The Maine Plan will monitor movements of all whales observed in areas where there is State of Maine fishing gear, establishes a joint industry/Marine Patrol standby assistance program to support disentanglement efforts, and will conduct plankton tows to determine whether whales are feeding or transiting an area.   These efforts offer multiple simple and practical ways to avoid the likelihood of jeopardy, to avoid potential gear interactions, and to minimize adverse effects if interactions with gear occur, while at the same time allowing the fisheries to operate over the areas in which they currently exist.  Importantly, this plan was developed collaboratively and directly involves the cooperative effort and conservation ethics of Maine fishermen.  They offer over 3,000 vessels and 10,000 sets of eyes to help collect the data necessary to produce good management. 

Funding for this program has been secured through two federal grants and the Department is now seeking to fill a new position of Large Whale Take Reduction Coordinator.  This key position will serve as a liaison between the fishermen, coastal communities, the State’s seven Lobster Zone Management Councils and the Department.  The Coordinator will be charged with developing and implementing a State sighting and surveillance program, an education and outreach program for fishermen and coastal communities, and an entanglement response plan. 

The Department of Marine Resources is now in the process of hiring for the Coordinator position.  Individuals interested in finding out more about the position are encouraged to go to the DMR website, or contact Project Leader, Terry Stockwell at (207) 633-9556.

 

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