Statement from DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher Regarding the Final Rule to Amend the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan

As you know, the Final Rule to amend the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan is out. While I am encouraged that NOAA has included some of the zone-specific conservation equivalencies (CEs) in the minimum traps per trawl provision that Maine fishermen worked so hard to develop, I still have serious concerns about other aspects of the rule.

The inclusion of CEs acknowledges the different fishing practices along Maine's coast and the need to protect fishermen safety. But I am disappointed the CEs we proposed for harvesters outside of 12 nautical miles were not included - this is a region where Maine fishermen expressed serious safety concerns associated with longer trawls and weak points. NOAA's unwillingness to provide some flexibility outside of 12 nautical miles will put fishermen at risk.

Also, after DMR took the initiative to communicate extensively with NOAA, Maine implemented state-specific gear marking regulations as a proactive measure to address data gaps. NOAA ultimately implemented a gear marking scheme that is significantly different than what was in the proposed rule. This change will not only compound the economic burden on fishermen who previously modified their gear, it also undermines the trust necessary for fishermen to engage in the rulemaking process, and means Maine will think twice about being proactive when it comes to federal rules.

I'm also concerned about the basis for the LMA 1 area closure, which relies on model outputs that lack significant corroborating acoustic or sightings data. In addition, the model's analysis clearly shows a decline in risk over time within the LMA 1 Restricted Area, which indicates that the benefit to right whales provided by the LMA 1 Restricted Area has decreased over time. An adaptive approach based on continued monitoring would make more sense and have less impact on fishermen.

Another real concern is that denser aggregations of gear outside the restricted area will pose an increase in gear conflict as fishermen are displaced from the restricted area and forced to find new areas to set their gear.

Finally, based on our own analysis of risk reduction from the LMA1 Restricted Area, I strongly believe that NMFS could have been more targeted in their closure. While the data was clear that an adaptive approach was viable, at the very least the agency could have made this area much smaller.

This process is far from over, and with the support of the Governor we will work directly with Maine's Congressional delegation to find relief from the burdensome rules and hold NOAA accountable for the science that is used. There are further regulatory changes ahead due to the management framework that was established as part of the Biological Opinion. Over the next decade these changes will pose even greater challenges to this vital Maine industry. I'll continue to work hard to ensure that federal regulators make use of the best available science and don't lose sight of the valuable input from Maine lobstermen as this process continues to unfold.

Patrick Keliher

Commissioner

Maine Department of Marine Resources