Critically endangered right whales keep on being injured and killed after becoming entangled in fishing gear. So NOAA Fisheries is working on proposed rules to deal with this crisis. In response, many of Maine’s lobster fishermen, our congressional delegation, our Governor and others have declared Maine lobster fishing isn’t the problem. They claim lobster gear doesn’t entangle right whales.
However, this dubious claim simply can’t be backed up. First off, as is documented, lobster gear has in fact entangled right whales. And secondly, there is oftentimes a great deal of ambiguity around which fishery’s gear has entangled a whale. In those cases where an entangled whale is observed (and not all are) the entangling gear often isn’t recovered. In the small minority of entanglements where gear is actually recovered, the specific fishery frequently can’t be determined because the gear isn’t marked. This is partly due to the Maine delegation’s 2008 demand that 70 percent of Maine waters be exempted from measures including a requirement to mark lobster gear.
The lack of information regarding which fishery’s gear entangles right whales doesn’t clear Maine’s lobster gear of causing entanglements. It only means that in most cases we don’t know whose gear was responsible.
What we do know is that right whales too often get entangled in vertical buoy lines. Given the fact that there are nearly 3 million licensed lobster traps in waters off of Maine’s coast, all the vertical lines associated with those traps pose a very real threat of entanglement to right whales.
Half-measures to protect right whales may not be successful, and shrugging our shoulders and saying too bad would be a deplorable response to our having allowed the whale’s extinction. If we are to ensure the continued existence of right whales, we need to address this threat, and soon. Maine must stop denying and obstructing, and instead get fully onboard with efforts to protect these whales. The state should financially assist its fishermen, who shouldn’t have to bear all the costs of making the changes necessary to protect right whales, and demand the federal government do the same.
Citizens Opposing Active Sonar Threats