NOAA Fisheries is adding an additional $1.6 million to current funding to help the New England lobster industry comply with additional protection measures for the imperiled North Atlantic right whales.

"The $1.6 million will support reducing the risk of entanglement of right whales in fishing gear while assisting the lobster fishing industry in adapting to the impacts of new measures to reduce the effects of trap/pot gear on right whales," NOAA Fisheries said in a statement.

NOAA Fisheries said the additional funding will be dispersed with the assistance of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Further details will follow, NOAA Fisheries said.

Marine scientists say the total population of imperiled North Atlantic right whales continues to hover around 400.

The announcement of the additional funding comes four days after an aerial survey team from a Florida aquarium spotted the first right whale calf of the current birthing season. The calf was observed swimming off the coast of Georgia with female whale believed to be its 14-year-old mother.

The endangered whales give birth off Florida and Georgia in fall before arriving in New England waters to feed in the late winter and early spring, congregating on Stellwagen Bank, a fishing ground located about 15 miles southeast of Gloucester, and off Cape Cod.

In April, the federal Large Whale Take Reduction Team assembled a plan that included a host of new protection measures centered on efforts to reduce the number of vertical buoy lines in the region's waters.

The plan calls for Maine to remove 50 percent of the vertical lines in the water, while Massachusetts and New Hampshire were tasked with reducing their vertical buoy lines by 30 percent.

The plan, while largely embraced in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, has run afoul of the ever-independent Maine lobster industry, as well as the state's elected and appointed officials.

Maine's Department of Marine Resources has developed its own plan for mitigating potential entanglements, but that too has run into opposition.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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