AUGUSTA (AP) – Federal rules that took effect Monday will require lobstermen to get new gear to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales, a Maine senator who has asked that the rules be delayed and modified said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a final rule Monday requiring lobstermen to use sinking rope instead of floating rope on their traps in offshore waters, roughly more than three miles from the coast, to protect whales.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the regulations will unfairly force thousands of Maine lobsterman to change their fishing gear.

Snowe, who has asked the agency to reconsider the rules, said she was “deeply troubled by the National Marine Fisheries Service’s unacceptable decision to issue final regulations that drastically, unfairly and unnecessarily impact Maine’s lobster industry.” Lobstermen have said the rules would be costly and dangerous.

because the new rope could snag on the rocky ocean bottom while doing little to protect whales.

Snowe, ranking member of the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, said she worked with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Maine Department of Marine Resources to ensure that lobstermen are not unfairly burdened by the new rule.

The senator and Maine Gov. John Baldacci had asked the fisheries service to delay implementing the rule until at least June 1, 2010 and to change the rules so they affect fewer lobster traps.

Snowe said rope manufacturers can’t make enough sinking rope to satisfy the demands of the industry under the current rules. She said that with the new rules, “some lobstermen (will have) to choose between breaking the law and going out of business.”

The NMFS office was closed Monday evening and no response was immediately available.

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