Concerns grow as deadline approaches for whale-friendly gear

Lobster boats will have to start using weakened ropes or special inserts to weaken existing ropes from May in certain waters to help protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

But rope and ties are not yet readily available, causing dismay to lobsters seeking to comply with the rules.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources has received numerous complaints that there aren’t enough approved ropes or weak links, a spokesperson told the Bangor Daily News.

The department plans to notify federal regulators of the issue so they are aware of potential compliance issues.

The weakened rope and ties are intended to help marine mammals free themselves if they become entangled in the rope. Weakened cords from two companies have been approved, but are not yet readily available, the newspaper reported.

Lobster fishermen like Jeff Putnam of Chebeague Island and David Tarr of Brooklin want NOAA to extend the deadline for the new regulations, which also include adding more traps to trawls in certain areas as well as new requirements for gear marking. Governor Janet Mills made a similar request in September, and it is being reviewed by NOAA.

“I will comply if I can,” Tarr said. “The problem is the timing. I won’t physically have time to implement all these changes.

North Atlantic right whales currently number less than 340 and their numbers have dropped sharply in recent years due to high mortality and poor reproduction.

Whales are vulnerable to ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear as they swim offshore, scientists say.

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