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Petition about fishing regulations in Mass draws response from Maine

Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation responded in opposition to the petition calling for...
Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation responded in opposition to the petition calling for immediate regulation in Massachusetts, with a letter to the Department of Commerce, calling the petition "shortsighted."(Bryan Sidelinger)
Published: Dec. 23, 2020 at 8:27 PM EST
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(WABI) - Environmental groups have filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service seeking immediate emergency action requiring the commercial fishing industry to protect endangered right whales from entanglement off the coast of Massachusetts.

Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation responded in opposition to that petition with a letter to the Department of Commerce, calling it shortsighted.

The petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to immediately prohibit the use of certain gear such as vertical fishing lines and to expand two existing closures in Southern New England waters.

”Based on the best available science,” said Emily Green, Senior Attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, who was one of the groups that filed the petition, “commercial fisheries are having an immediate and significant adverse impact on North American Right Whales, triggering the need for the agency to take emergency action.”

The petition suggests ropeless fishing could be used, and even though it targets Massachusetts, Maine’s commercial fishing industry is watching, according to Mike Dassatt, who is on the board of the Downeast Lobsterman’s Association, and is the group’s Secretary Treasurer.

“We need to be supporting Massachusetts because here in Maine, it would put way too many people out of business,” he said.

The Fisheries Service has until May 31st to come up with new regulations for the lobster industry to help protect right whales. Environmentalists see the petition as a stop-gap measure until then. Members of Maine’s congressional delegation say the petition undermines the work the lobster industry and the Fisheries Service have been doing toward getting approval for those regulations.

“We were disappointed that the Maine delegation responded in a way as if we were attacking Maine fisheries, which we were not doing,” said Green.

“I’m glad the Maine delegation has stepped up and said,’enough is enough,’” Dassatt said. “It’s nice to see that across the board. Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or Independent, we gotta nip this now because if we don’t, it’s just going to become a greater problem down the road for us.”

Environmentalists continue to push ropeless fishing as something that can work, but the lobster industry says it’s too expensive. They say ship-strikes are having a far deadlier impact to the right whale than the lobster industry.

There is still a long way to go to finding a solution that works best, but everyone seems to agree they will keep working at it.

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