A bill to help Maine lobstermen test new gear in preparation for potential federal restrictions meant to protect endangered right whales gained unanimous bipartisan approval in the Senate.

The bill seeks to set aside $1 million a year for the next two years to help lobstermen comply with federal regulations that could kick-in within six years.

The industry has faced intense pressure in recent years as federal officials have instituted restrictions to try to save the whales, which are believed to number fewer than 340.

Following the Senate vote on Tuesday, bill sponsor Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Arrowsic) said federal regulators have “targeted Maine’s lobster industry as a scapegoat.”

“The bipartisan fight against these untenable regulations is ongoing,” she said in a statement. “This bill will help make sure that lobstermen are prepared for what might be on the horizon.”

Vitelli’s bill, which faces additional House and Senate votes, would provide stipends to reimburse lobstermen for time they spend testing gear.

The federal government has earmarked $18 million to pay for gear that will be tested, so state funds are necessary support fishermen who choose to test the gear, according to Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher.

That gear could include ropeless technology, although industry officials say that’s an expensive option for the family run businesses that make up the 4,750 commercially licensed lobstermen and 1,085 student license holders.

The fleet supports 12,000 “jobs on the water” and an additional 5,500 shoreside jobs through its supply chain. Its value to the Maine economy is estimated to be about $1 billion a year, according to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

Federal regulators have already restricted fishing in certain areas during specific periods in which the whales migrate to Canadian waters. Maine lobstermen have also switched to ropes that break more easily if a whale becomes entangled.

The industry argues that they are not to blame for the reduced whale population, saying that a whale death has never been linked to Maine gear and that the last entanglement in Maine was in 2004.

A move by the state’s congressional delegation late last year delayed implementation of additional regulations for six years, buying the industry time to “develop new fishing gear technologies,” Patrice McCarron, policy director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, wrote to a legislative committee in April.