Maine Lobstermen’s Association Responds to Federal Whale Proposals Raises Concern over Future of the Fishery and the Need for Better Data
Kennebunk, ME. 3/22/21- “The MLA will not let over-reaching regulations based on inaccurate data erase the Maine lobster fishery and our fishing heritage,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), in response to two major federal rulemakings proposed this winter intended to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. Last year, a federal court ruled that the lobster fishery cannot operate without revised rules in place and gave the government until May 31, 2021 to update and correct legal deficiencies in existing rules.
“None of us want to harm a right whale,” said Kristan Porter, MLA president and Cutler lobsterman. “It would be an extremely sad day for any lobsterman to think that a right whale was hurt in our gear. We’ve worked hard over the last 20 years to make our gear safer so that doesn’t happen.”
The MLA submitted extensive comments outlining legal and scientific flaws in the draft Biological Opinion on behalf of 12 New England fishing groups, and proposing recommendations to correct and improve the science and conservation measures in the proposed whale rule. One of the central points raised by MLA is that the most draconian measures proposed are likely to be ineffective at saving whales and unnecessary if NMFS adopts corrections proposed in the fishing industry’s comments.
“How can our government hold Maine lobstermen accountable for right whale deaths that we know are happening somewhere else. It’s just not right and it will not save the whales,” said Porter. Federal data show that 12 right whales died in Canada in 2017 and another ten in 2019. Three right whale babies have been killed by boat strikes in Florida over the last two years.
The Biological Opinion lays out a framework for a massive risk reduction over the next 10 years implemented through four phases. By 2030 the framework aims to reduce entanglement risk to right whales in all U.S. federal fixed gear fisheries, including lobster, by 98%.
Phase I of the Biological Opinion is implementation of the new Whale Rule to reduce entanglement risk to right whales from the northeast lobster fishery by 60%. This rulemaking has been in the works since 2017, when the first right whale population decline in more than two decades was first documented.
“For MLA, step one is to make sure both rules are implemented on time so that we have a fishery, but with enough flexibility so that lobstermen can fish safely and stay in business,” McCarron explained. “Step two is to fix the sub-standard science and modelling that misdirect regulatory efforts away from activities that are actually killing right whales.”
Maine lobstermen expressed their frustration over this process during the public comment period for the proposed Whale Rule, including:
- Questioning why the lobster fishery has been singled out to expand its right whale protections when the last right whale death or injury linked to U.S. lobster gear occurred in 2002.
- Noting that over the last four years more than one-third of right whale entanglement deaths and injuries occurred Canadian fishing gear.
- Pointing out that preliminary reports on the recent death of right whale 3920, known as Cottontail, recovered off South Carolina in February, indicate that it was entangled in rope far larger than that fished in the Maine lobster fishery. Another entangled right whale 3560, known as Snow Cone, sighted in Cape Cod Bay in January was also reportedly entangled in large diameter rope not fished by Maine lobstermen.
“We are looking down the barrel of a loaded gun aimed at our lobster fishery. The MLA has expanded its whale team to make sure that we leave no stone unturned,” noted McCarron. “We urge anyone who cares about the Maine lobster fishery to support the Legal Defense Fund. Quite literally, the future of the lobster industry is at stake.”
MLA’s comments on the draft Biological Opinion and Proposed Rule are available at:
Information on the Maine lobster industry’s efforts to protect endangered right whales is available at: