PORTLAND — The National Marine Fishery Service will hold a forum Wednesday, Oct, 5 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to hear from fishermen about changes to the federal agency’s plan on how to reduce the risk to the North Atlantic Right Whale.

The public hearing will be held at the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Education Center Hannaford Hall at 88 Bedford St. in Portland.

The NMFS will be conducting an in-person scoping meeting to collect public input on modifications to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan to reduce the risk of death and serious injury caused by U.S. commercial fishing gear to endangered North Atlantic right whales in compliance with the mandates of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Maine Commissioner of Marine Resources Patrick Keliher stated in a news release issued Sept. 29 that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has scheduled this scoping session because Maine Gov. Janet Mills worked with the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to ensure she understood how important it was for the NMFS to come to Maine and hear directly from Maine fishermen.

Keliher said this scoping session is being held by the NMFS in response to a federal judge in Washington D.C. who ruled on the side of environmental non-governmental organizations who have sued the Service for not doing enough to protect right whales. This decision has forced the NMFS to fast-track the 10-year plan whale plan and implement a 90% risk reduction years ahead of schedule. This scoping meeting is the first part of a process that should take two years to play out, assuming the same federal judge doesn’t continue to rule with the ENGO’s and force a faster timeline, Keliher stated in the news release.

“You might be asking yourself why we should bother to participate in this process if Maine, the MLA and MLU continue to be engaged in the federal court? The short answer is because we have no idea how courts will rule, no matter how good the arguments the State of Maine and industry groups have made.  It is imperative that we participate in the process to provide Maine’s input because if we don’t, the federal government will act without your input. Your voice needs to be heard, and your ideas and personal impacts need to be shared,” the state Commissioner stated.

“While there will be more opportunities to speak to NOAA on the record regarding future rules, this will be the only face to face opportunity for you to provide input on the development of potential measures,” Keliher stated.

It’s also very important that Maine’s concerns and priorities be included in the administrative record, and your testimony is a key component of that record, he said.

He said suggestions for what to address in your comments during the scoping session include:

  • How a 90% risk reduction target will impact you.
  • How a 90% risk reduction target will impact your community.
  • What types of measures you think should be considered.
  • That the timeline is too short for development of thoughtful measures – there’s not enough time for DMR and industry to meet and develop and refine ideas.
  • Why you feel public input from the fishing industry is needed in this process.