News Feature

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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 27, 2021
Opinion on whale rules expected May 31
‘Biological opinion’ to set stage for final rule

A government document that sets the stage for a whale rule that could devastate the lobster fishery is expected to be published on May 31, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).

The document, known as a biological opinion or “BiOp,” is required by law before a whale rule can be published. In January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a draft of the BiOp, as ordered by a judge. The draft outlines a 10-year plan that would reduce 98 percent of the lobster fishery’s risk to whales. Gov. Janet Mills called the draft “devastating,” and DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said it was like “getting a hit in the gut.”

On May 31, people will find out whether the final BiOp mirrors the draft or if it has been substantially modified. The final rule is expected sometime this summer, though it is possible the deadline will be extended, according to Jake O’Neill, press secretary for the CLF, a party to the lawsuit forcing NOAA to write a new whale rule.

Local fishermen say they’ve never seen a right whale in the Gulf of Maine, and new rules targeting lobster fishery will do nothing to save the whales.

The real culprits

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden has criticized NOAA for ignoring the real culprits that endanger whales: cruise and shipping lines and Canadian fishermen. That’s because shipping and cruise line companies have the money to pay for teams of lawyers and lobbyists, but lobstermen do not, Golden said.

Last year, he tried to pass an amendment that blocked funding for any regulation making use of NOAA’s faulty data. Earlier this month, the Maine delegation met with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to press her on the issue, according to Nick Zeller, Golden’s spokesman. NOAA is part of the Commerce Department.