DMR puts hold on whale rule meetings

ELLSWORTH — Hold everything.

Early last week, the Department of Marine Resources published a list of tentative dates for a second round of lobster zone council meetings relating to the measures Maine intends to submit to the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce risk to right whales supposedly posed by lobster gear.

At the end of the week, DMR postponed the meetings scheduled for Zone C in Stonington and Zone E in Wiscasset.

On Tuesday, DMR sent out a notice postponing all the zone council meetings until further notice.

“At this time, DMR is advising the industry that the entire schedule of meetings is currently on hold,” the notice from DMR Lobster Resource Manager Sarah Cotnoir said. “The commissioner (Patrick Keliher) regrets the delays but wants to ensure that we develop a proposal for submission to NMFS that reflects a thorough review of all data.”

DMR held a first round of meetings with individual zone councils in early summer.

Early this month, NMFS held a round of “scoping” meetings in Maine and elsewhere in New England “to involve the public in developing ideas to reduce the risk of serious injury or mortality of large whales” from their interaction with vertical buoy lines and gillnet gear.

Information gleaned at those meetings, and from written comments submitted to NMFS, “informs development” of the environmental impact statement the agency is required to prepare as part of its rulemaking process. DMR plans to submit extensive written comments to NMFS, but Keliher wants to ensure that the department’s submission is factually correct.

“The department remains committed to meeting with industry members before any proposal is formally submitted to NMFS,” Cotnoir wrote. “Please be assured that we will share with you an updated meeting schedule when it becomes available.”

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