Federal officials are giving Maine lobster fisheries more time to purchase new, environmentally friendly fishing gear, after hearing from Gov. Janet Mills and Maine’s congressional delegation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday it would still require lobstermen and women to upgrade their gear, but would “implement a graduated enforcement effort” for those who can show they are genuinely trying to meet the May 1 deadline. 

The new requirements call for gear with weaker rope lines, which are less likely to entangle whales. Mills, together with U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, petitioned NOAA to recognize that supply chain delays are making it difficult for Maine’s lobster fishing fleets to meet the deadline.

“Given that the lobster gear deadline is just two weeks away, this is an urgent problem, and we will continue pushing to provide Maine’s lobster industry with as much support and flexibility as possible in complying with this unfair and onerous rule,” the Maine delegation and Gov. Mills said in a joint statement. “A better and fairer solution would be for NOAA to delay the deadline to July 1 as we have repeatedly called for.”

NOAA, in its statement, declined to move the deadline, but acknowledged that it would not be immediately enforcing the deadline for fisheries.

“I want to assure fishermen who are making good faith efforts to comply with these new measures but are not able to procure compliant gear that we understand the difficulty of their situation. We are working closely with our state and federal enforcement partners to implement a graduated enforcement effort that will focus on compliance assistance rather than civil penalties until we have determined that localized supply chain issues have been sufficiently resolved,” Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator Michael Pentony said.