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On December 23rd, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve an omnibus spending bill that will fund the federal government. The bill includes a six-year pause on new federal whale regulations and provides funding for data collection on whale populations and phytoplankton, as well as the development of innovative gear technology. The bill is expected to be signed by the President in the coming days.

Some of the major provisions of the bill include:

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A six-year delay in the implementation of the next phase of federal regulations for the lobster fishery under the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP). New regulations will be required by December 31, 2028. This pause will provide relief for the industry, which was facing economic hardship from the previous regulatory process.

$2,000,000 in funding for partnerships between state agencies, academia, and industry to research the impact of whale protection measures on the American lobster resource and fishery in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and southern New England.

$6,000,000 in funding for research, monitoring, enforcement, and conservation efforts related to North Atlantic right whales (NARW). This funding will be used to better understand the abundance and distribution of NARW and to develop future regulations that protect whales while minimizing the impact on industry. At least half of the funding will be used for vessel surveys, passive acoustic monitoring, habitat and plankton monitoring, habitat modeling, and potentially whale tagging in the Gulf of Maine. This research may enable the dynamic management of closed areas based on whale presence, rather than large, static seasonal closures.

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$1,500,000 in funding to support the continued development of ropeless fishing gear technologies. The research will focus on issues such as gear location, gear conflict avoidance, and enforcement.

$26,000,000 through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for distribution among affected states to offset the costs of compliance with the 2021 rule and electronic monitoring requirements or for research to inform future regulatory actions, including the development of a dynamic management program or new gear technologies.

A new grant program authorized and funded at $20,000,000 for Fiscal Year 2023 to be administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Funding will be available for research and development of new gear technology to reduce the impact of human activities on right whales, the development of dynamic management approaches, and training on the use of new technologies. Eligible recipients include states, as well as non-profit organizations, research institutes, and universities that partner with states or fishing industry members and groups.

A directive for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to work with states and other stakeholders to improve the Decision Support Tool (DST) with the goal of reducing uncertainty in determining risk.

Encouragement for NOAA to revise whale population models using “most reasonably certain to occur” scenarios and assumptions, and to incorporate better data to make more accurate predictions of future NARW populations before issuing any new regulations.

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