(Jul 11, 2007)

Agency agrees on new rules to protect whales

From AP

BOSTON (AP) - New rules to protect endangered whales from fatal fishing-gear entanglements will be in place this fall after environmentalists sued to end the delay.

The National Marine Fisheries Service agreed to issue the new regulations by Oct. 1. in a settlement with the Ocean Conservancy and The Humane Society, the environmental groups said Tuesday.

The groups sued in February to force action on the rules, proposed in early 2005, saying they were urgently needed to protect whales including the North Atlantic right whale, of which about 350 are left.

A key part of the proposed rules was a switch by lobstermen to rope that sinks to the ocean floor so whales don't get caught in it. Some lobstermen have objected, saying the heavier rope is costly and sometimes unnecessary.

Marine gear entanglements and ship strikes are the top human causes of right whale deaths. On July 1, the shipping lanes in and out of Boston Harbor were rotated to avoid an area with a high concentration of the right whales.

Mary Colligan, a fisheries service assistant regional administrator, said federal officials have been working through complicated issues quickly to ensure the rules are effective.

''It's important to move as fast as possible,'' she said. ''It's also important to move in a very informed manner.''

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