NMFS officials are beginning a second phase in their drive to reduce fishing gear entanglement risks to endangered Atlantic right whales, fin whales and humpback whales, focusing next on East Coast pot and gillnet fisheries.

The first phase, focused on the Northeast lobster and Jonah crab trap fisheries, is under review is currently at the NOAA Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and agency officials say it will be finalized soon. That part of the plan will bring new requirements for weak links, gear marking, seasonal area closures and minimum number of traps per trawl.

Similar measures would be developed for the other fixed gear fisheries, and NMFS is opening a scoping period Sept. 9 through Oct. 21 to solicit input and information from fishermen and other stakeholders. A schedule released this week sets dates for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. online webinars.

There are also arrangements for people to give input by calling in by phone on certain days, or sending written comments by email.

Webinar dates are set for each fishery, although agency officials say anyone is welcome to participate by registering online. The sessions are:

• Thursday, Sept. 9: Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Northern North Carolina trap/pot fisheries

• Tuesday, Sept. 14: Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey trap/pot fisheries

• Tuesday, Sept. 21: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island trap/pot fisheries

• Thursday, Sept. 23: Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey gillnet fisheries

• Tuesday, Oct. 5: Southern North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida Trap/pot and gillnet fisheries

• Tuesday, Oct. 12: Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and Northern North Carolina gillnet fisheries

• Thursday, Oct. 14: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island gillnet fisheries

To speak by phone with NMFS’ Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office about scoping, call (978) 282-8479 on the following days and hours.

Callers can leave a voicemail for a callback if the phone line is busy. Those call-in dates and times are Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, noon to 6 p.m.; Monday, Oct. 4, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday, Oct.12, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Written statements can be submitted to the agency by Oct. 21 by emailing to [email protected].

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