Proposed Whale Rule Comment Information and Frequently Asked Questions

NOAA Fisheries is seeking comments on the Proposed Rule to consider amendments to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. The measures in the Proposed Rule are intended to achieve at least a 60% reduction in mortalities or serious injury of right whales in the Northeast lobster and crab trap/pot fisheries.

The Proposed Rule addresses a series of management measures to reduce risk: modifying gear marking to introduce state-specific colors and increase marking frequency (implemented in Maine state regulations Sept. 2020); introducing weak insertions or weak rope into vertical lines; increasing trawl lengths, and also suggests an LMA 1 Restricted Area (Oct.-Jan.).

Comments due by March 1, 2021

Comments will be accepted at public hearings in February, listed below and through the regulations.gov website by going to: regulations.gov . Search for NOAA-NMFS-2020-0031. Choose "Comment Now" to submit your comments.

Click here for Proposed Rule to Amend ALWTRP, Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Proposed Rule Summary Fact Sheet

NOAA Virtual Public Hearings 6:30 pm-8:30 pm

Register early to ensure access to this webinar. If you cannot attend these meetings, they will be recorded and available online at fisheries.noaa.gov/ALWTRP.

We recommend logging on early - you may join at 6 pm

Tuesday, February 23 Southern Maine Registration: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4167147282087010060

Wednesday, February 24 Northern Maine Registration: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/266620986458633996

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does the Proposed Rule look different than what the zones recommended this summer?

NOAA's Proposed Rule is based on the Maine plan that was submitted over a year ago. It does not include the conservation equivalencies discussed by the zones this summer. ME DMR has the conservation equivalencies the zones supported and intends to include that information in our comments on the Proposed Rule. This is an area that will be important for fishermen to comment on, in particular, to show how a one-size-fits-all rule doesnt work across zone lines.

  • Once the Final Rule is published, what will the effective date be?

This is a federal rule and there is no way to predict what the effective date will be. It will be important for the industry to comment on implementation dates for the different measures (weak points, trawl minimums, closure) so that NOAA can take that into consideration when finalizing the Final Rule.

  • When will Maine know what options will be acceptable for the weak points? Will there be a partial list available before the rule is finalized?

ME DMR has been working to test different weak point options and is in the process of providing that data to NOAA Fisheries. Given NOAA is the agency which must develop and release the list of acceptable weak point options, the timeline is unclear at this time. It is our understanding that NOAA is developing a partial list now and more options could be added later as they are tested. DMR will submit a list of tested weak point connections. It would be helpful for the industry to comment on what will work for your individual needs.

  • In some areas, Maine proposed two trawling up options for an area. For example, a minimum number of 5 traps on a trawl with one endline or a minimum of 10 traps on a trawl with two endlines. The Proposed Rule doesnt include the shorter configurations with one endline. Will Maine be able to fish the shorter gear with one endline?

NOAA Fisheries is seeking input, particularly from fishermen, regarding fishing shorter trawls with one endline. Specifically, NOAA is interested in hearing about safety concerns of fishing a longer trawl with two endlines vs. a shorter trawl with one endline, as well as any impacts on gear conflicts if the two configurations were mixed in the same area.It will be important for the industry to comment on this, particularly from a safety perspective.

  • Are weak links at the buoy or at the surface system connection needed once weak points are required within the vertical line?

NOAA Fisheries is seeking input on this question. The Proposed Rule provides several options for the 600-lb weak link, including maintaining the weak link at the buoy or moving the weak link to the base of the surface system where it would connect to the vertical line.

  • Why does the LMA 1 Restricted Area (Oct Jan) follow the LMA 1/3 boundary?

This is a question that should be addressed to NOAA since they developed the closure. This could be done either during the scheduled public hearings or in written comments. In general, management measures in the Proposed Rule were developed on a jurisdictional basis, with LMA 1 measures being developed separately from LMA 3. NOAA Fisheries is looking for comments from fishermen impacted by the proposed LMA 1 closure to discuss if the closure is warranted, how this would impact your fishing operation, and where you would move your gear.

  • What about ship strikes?

There is a separate rulemaking framework for Reducing Vessel Strikes to North Atlantic Right Whales. NOAA just released their North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Speed Rule Report in January, and it is available on the NOAA website . NOAA is accepting comments on the report until March 26, 2021.

  • When are the comments due?

Proposed Rule Due March 1, 2021

Right Whale Speed Rule Assessment March 26, 2021

Your Comments are Needed on:

Conservation Equivalencies

- Lobster zones conservation equivalency proposals

- Trawl length equivalencies (i.e. 8 traps with two endlines equals 4 traps with one endline) and the use of a single buoy line on multi-trap trawls.

Economic Impacts

- Economic impact of the LMA 1 Restricted Area, including the number of vessels that may be impacted

-Estimates of time and cost for gear marking and gear conversion (trawls, weak points)

LMA 1 Restricted Area

- Assumptions regarding the removal vs. the relocation of gear

- Regs/rules and/or economics that may affect the relocation of gear

- Any other comments on impacts of this potential closure

Implementation

- The time needed for implementation of measures in the Proposed Rule