One of the biggest issues facing the industry is the plight of the North Atlantic right whale. With 18 deaths in 2017, major pressure is on the industry to make changes. The MLA has been working on this issue since 1997 with the formation of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team. Over the past 20 years, Maine lobstermen have implemented many measures to protect whales (see graphic).
With the recent announcement from National Marine Fisheries (NMFC) asking for a 60 to 80% reduction in whale mortality and injury, Maine’s lobster industry is under fire. But it is important to remember that there are two ways that whales are being managed. NMFS has a Take Reduction Team (TRT) which addresses whale death and mortality and the ASFMC is tasked with enforcing the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
To read the recent email from the TRT dated April 5th, please click HERE.
To quote Patrice McCarron of the MLA:
Given all this the bureaucratic confusion, lobstermen naturally want to cut to the chase. “If there are no recent confirmed right whale entanglements in Maine lobster gear, why do we need to do anything?” they wonder. “Who is standing up for us and telling the government that enough is enough?”Steaming Ahead, Landings, April 2019
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association is. The MLA is present at all of the whale meetings and you can be sure, we are not sitting there silently. At whale management meetings, we have already said “No” to ropeless fishing and to a mandate for 1,700 pound weak rope for everyone. At industry meetings, we are listening to lobstermen’s feedback on what will work for Maine. And the MLA is an intervener in the court case so that the Maine lobster fishery will have a voice if any decisions are made through the court.
But even as we fight for Maine lobstermen to continue to fish, that does not mean that Maine will not have to do something. The Maine lobster fishery is not the smoking gun when it comes to whale entanglement. In fact, there is no smoking gun (other than Canadian snow crab gear). Unfortunately, there is no clear solution on how to ensure the continued survival of right whales.
The Take Reduction Team meets in Rhode Island beginning April 23, 2019. There has been much confusion about what will actually be discussed at these meetings: information seems to change daily. However, it was recently revealed that they will be using a “Risk Assessment Tool”, a working model that forecasts right whale locations based on current data. The idea is that if the whales location is known, then reasonable measures can be taken to limit entanglements or accidents (ship strikes.) You can see more on NOAA’s risk assessment tool HERE.
The MLA is working tirelessly to protect this amazing fishery. You can help support our work by becoming a member or by donating to the Legal Defense Fund. This fund is designated to pay the costs associated with battling any unfair and devastating rules.
In 2002, the MLA documented the gear used in the lobster fishery and how it differs along the coast in “Lobster Pot Gear Configurations in the Gulf of Maine” (below). While much of the recent media coverage has been one-sided and inaccurate, a Portland Press Herald article from April 2018 article provided a more balanced perspective. You can read the story HERE. Note that the 2018 right whale mortality found in US waters died due to entanglement in Canadian snow crab gear.
A detailed summary of Maine’s whale rules is also below.
What Maine lobstermen are doing now to protect right whales
How lobster traps are configured in the state of Maine