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In the News: December 2014/January 2015

Deadline set for right whale critical habitat expansion Only a portion of the range of the North Atlantic right whale is protected as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act. That may change as the result of a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). In 2009, a coalition of environmental and animal protection groups formally petitioned the NMFS to significantly expand habitat protection to include all of the whales’ nursery, breeding and feeding grounds. The petition pushed to expand the whales’ protected area more than tenfold, from roughly 4,000 square miles to more than 50,000 square miles. Last spring, the groups filed suit in federal court in Boston to force action. A settlement agreement, filed in late November, sets a legally binding deadline of February, 2016, for the Service to issue a final decision about where and how much additional habitat should be protected. The groups’ petition seeks expanded protection for the whale’s calving grounds off Georgia and northern Florida, critical feeding habitat off the Northeast coast and the mid-Atlantic migratory route between calving and feeding grounds. In areas designated as critical habitat, the federal government must ensure that activities, including commercial fishing, vessel traffic and oil drilling, will not diminish the value of the habitat or reduce the whale’s chance for recovery.

Climate change affecting seasons Spring is arriving earlier than it used to in the Gulf of Maine, increasing average water temperatures and affecting the migratory patterns of fish species that are key to Maine’s marine ecosystem and coastal economy, according to a federal report. Over the past eight years, the date that scientists use to mark the transition to spring based on water temperature has gotten earlier by roughly two weeks for waters off the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Likewise, the date for the transition to fall is falling later in the year, according to the report by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. A similar trend is playing out in the Gulf of Maine. “The spring transition date, currently identified as mid-May, is likely to shift to early April, and the fall transition, currently identified as mid-November, will likely shift well into December,” NOAA oceanographer Kevin Friedland said.

P.E.I. lobster achieves MSC certification The Prince Edward Island lobster fishery received Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certification in November. The certification process, which began last spring, was a cooperative effort by island lobstermen, seafood processors and tribal associations. Three main criteria were examined as part of the independent assessment process, including the status of the lobster stock, the impact of the lobster fishery on the marine ecosystem and the fishery’s management system. The P.E.I. lobster fishery provides more than 5,000 jobs and generates more than $200 million (CD) to the province’s economy each year. The MSC certification was the result of the combined efforts of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, the Abegweit First Nation and the Lennox Island First Nation.

Beals Island marine institute receives grant The nonprofit Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education has received a $2 million grant that will be used to expand the institute’s facility on Great Wass Island. The grant, awarded by the Next Generation Foundation, will be used to construct additional space for research, including more storage for live marine organisms and more square footage for processing samples collected at sea and along the shore. Plans also call for new office space for scientists and staff, a reception area for visitors, and a 50-seat conference center. The Downeast Institute began in 1987, when Dr. Brian Beal of the University of Maine at Machias and six Washington County coastal towns teamed up to start a waterfront soft shell clam hatchery on Moosabec Reach on Beals Island. The institute moved in 2003 to a former lobster storage facility at Black Duck Cove on Great Wass Island and, in 2010, built and opened an attached 1,000-square-foot marine education center. In 2012, construction of a new 100-foot pier was completed at the site. Research at the Institute has expanded from soft shell clams to include cultivation and management programs for blue mussels, arctic surf clams, hard-shell clams, green crabs, scallops and lobster.

DMR commissioner named policy Fellow In December Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher was named a Distinguished Maine Policy Fellow by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. Distinguished Maine Policy Fellows are individuals with a past or current career as a policy maker in Maine and are recognized as people of distinguished status and extensive experience. “I was very pleased to be chosen for this honor, and extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend some time learning more about the impressive, world class science that is being conducted at the University of Maine,” said Commissioner Keliher.The purpose of the Distinguished Maine Policy Fellows program is to connect distinguished Maine policy leaders with University of Maine faculty, students and administration, to improve educational experiences of students, and to expand University and Policy Center contacts.

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