Hearings begin tonight on the NOAA proposal to reduce lobster trap lines and introduce state-specific markings for fishing gear as part of a plan to reduce the number of entanglements involving endangered right whales in New England waters.

The goal of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's proposal is reducing the risk to whales by 60%.

North Atlantic right whales number only about 360 and are in the midst of a worrisome decline in population.

Information sessions about the plans will be held via webinar from 6:30 to 9 p.m. for Rhode Island, Southern Massachusetts and LMA3 tonight; for Outer Cape Cod, LMA1 in Massachusetts and LMA1 in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Jan. 13; southern Maine on Jan. 19; and northern Maine on Jan. 20. A lobsterman may attend any of the sessions and ask questions about any area. Details may be found at http://bit.ly/3pCcSfP.

NOAA said the sessions will open for 6 p.m .for troubleshooting, so anyone who would like to participate is asked to log on early.

Under the NOAA plan, the number of lobster trap lines would be reduced by requiring more traps per line, and gear would be marked with state-specific colors to identify gear if a whale becomes entangled.

Also, weak points that allow a line to break if a whale becomes entangled would be required in virtually all waters from Maine to Rhode Island, even in waters where they are now exempted.

Finally, the proposal would modify existing seasonally restricted areas and create two new restricted areas to allow fishing using ropeless technology. The emerging technology is costly, and many fishermen are skeptical.

The U.S. lobster industry is based mostly in Maine and Massachusetts and is one of New England 's most lucrative marine industries. Massachusetts is the second biggest exporter of lobster, behind Maine. Gloucester is the Bay State’s top port when it comes to lobster landings, while Rockport is in the top five.

The endangered right whales give birth off Florida and Georgia in fall before arriving in New England waters to feed in the late winter and early spring, congregating on Stellwagen Bank, a fishing ground located about 15 miles southeast of Gloucester, and off Cape Cod.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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