Right whales and lobsters: what to do?

ELLSWORTH — When the Maine Lobstermen’s Association informed the National Marine Fisheries Service at the end of August that it was withdrawing its support for the agency’s proposed whale protection rules, it also offered a list of 10 “actions” NMFS should take.

The proposed rules could force lobstermen to remove half their vertical buoy lines from the waters of the Gulf of Maine. The Lobstermen’s Association in its letter offered 10 alternative suggestions “to develop an effective right whale protection program.”

The suggestions, most of which dealt with the way NMFS collected, interpreted or disseminated the data on which it based its proposals, ranged from the general to the extremely specific.

The association called on the fisheries service to “publish a thorough analysis of its own data regarding known sources of entanglement risk to right whales,” and to “conduct a new analysis of the risk reduction target” based on MLA-supplied data and to “reconsider” the risk reduction role in light of what the group described as NMFS’s “flawed assumptions and omission of consideration of risk posed by other U.S. fixed gear fisheries.”

MLA also asked NMFS to incorporate the new data into its analysis that will underlie statutorily required “biological opinions” regarding the impact of the lobster fishery on right whales.

Much of the basis for the NMFS actions is the data published by the fisheries service in a “technical memo” released earlier this year that MLA says contains “inaccuracies and misleading information.” MLA is asking NMFS to withdraw that memorandum and to “correct misleading presentations of data on entangled right whales” that overstate the risk of serious injury and death the whales face from the lobster fishery.

MLA also called on NMFS to fix the “decision support tool” provided to the Take Reduction Team (TRT) before it arrived at its recommendations to NMFS last spring and to call the TRT back together.

MLA also asked NMFS to look at other manmade risks to right whales, such as seismic testing, offshore wind developments, offshore aquaculture and ship strikes and to conduct more and better research to identify and deal with the threats facing right whales.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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