Marine Mammal Commission to Discuss Right Whales

by Laurie Schreiber


PORTSMOUTH, NH—At its January meeting, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) heard from Marine Mammal Commission Chairman Daryl Boness and Executive Director Rebecca Lent, who said the commission would address North Atlantic right whales among topics scheduled for its annual meeting, open to the public, in the Woods Hole area of Massachusetts from April 5-7.

The meeting will address some of the biggest marine mammal issues in the Northeast region. Another hot topic is recovering pinniped populations.

NEFMC member Terry Stockwell, representing Maine, indicated the topic would be of interest to the lobster industry in the five states represented by the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASFMC). Although NEFMC doesn’t manage the state-water lobster fishery, he asked Lent to keep NEMFC informed about the upcoming agenda so it can relayed to those five states.

The commission is an independent federal agency created by Marine Mammal Protection Act to provide oversight for the protection and conservation of marine mammals and their environment.

Boness said the commission is tracking a number of issues, including climate change and its impacts on coastal communities. Offshore energy development, seismic impacts, shipping impacts, and fishery impacts are other issues of interest when it comes to marine mammals, he said.

Lent said the goal of the annual meeting is to hear from local stakeholders, scientists, and mangers about the big marine mammal issues the area is facing.

As a New England-based meeting, she said, North Atlantic right whales are prominent on the agenda, including the latest science on the population’s status, and policies around impacts such as ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. Prior to the meeting, a scientific workshop will be held in March to look at the latest right whale figures.

The commission will also address native subsistence harvest in the Arctic, and energy development as it relates to marine mammals.

NEFMC member Michael Sissenwine suggested that, at some point, it would be useful to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act for success.

“We’ll need to deal with the reality that we’ll be successful in recovering marine mammal populations, and there will be interactions that we’ll need to deal with in a responsible way,” Sissenwine said.

Boness said the commission has been looking at the topic.

“I think it might be worth further pursuing some policy guidance,” Sissenwine said. “That would help the affected population and affected citizens to be more familiar with how to move forward when it’s appropriate.”

Lent said that, as part of that idea, the National Marine Fisheries Service is preparing draft guidelines for nonlethal deterrents for marine mammals in interactions such as fishing activities and property ownership.