Second round of meetings scheduled on right whale issue



ELLSWORTH — Lobstermen will get another bite at the right whale problem over the next few weeks at a series of meetings scheduled by the Department of Marine Resources.

The meetings are being held to discuss rules proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service that could force Maine fishermen to cut the number of vertical buoy lines they use by 50 percent.

Earlier this week, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher announced that he would hold a second round of meetings with each of the state’s seven Lobster Zone Management Councils to consider area-by-area suggestions of how to deal with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s proposed rule that would require a 50 percent reduction of vertical endlines on lobster traps in much of the Gulf of Maine.

The federal proposal also would require that endlines use rope of reduced strength, include sections of weaker rope or splices with reduced strength or some combination of the two so that whales could break free if they become entangled in fishing gear.

In June, Keliher met with the zone councils to explain what changes NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service wanted in the way Maine lobstermen fished in order to protect endangered northern right whales as required by the federal Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection acts.

Earlier this month, NMFS held a series of scoping meetings in Maine and elsewhere seeking comment from lobstermen on the proposed rule changes that could, among other problems, force them to fish as many as 40 traps on a single trawl in deeper waters offshore.

On Monday, DMR published a tentative schedule for upcoming zone council meetings. According to Keliher, DMR must submit its suggestions for gear modifications to the fisheries service in September.

As of Tuesday, the schedule called for the meeting of the Zone C Council on Wednesday, Aug. 28, at the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School.

The Zone B meeting is planned for Monday, Sept. 9, in the Trenton Elementary School gym.

The Zone A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 10, in the Washington Academy gym in East Machias.

All of the meetings are scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

Down the coast, the Zone E Council is scheduled to meet next Monday, Aug. 26, at the Wiscasset Middle High School. The Zone D meeting is planned for Tuesday, Sept. 3, at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro.

The Zone G meeting is set for Wednesday, Sept. 4, at Kennebunk High School and the Zone F meeting is planned for Thursday, Sept. 5, at Freeport High School.

Those meetings, too, have scheduled 5 p.m. starting times.

DMR has advised that all of the dates are tentative. A final schedule will be published by the end of this week.

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