Reading Bill McWeeny’s July 23 commentary bothered me a great deal. His statement that right whales have never been so close to extinction since they were hunted is untrue. I’ve been a lobsterman for almost 50 years, and we’ve been dealing with the whale issue for almost two decades.
When we started this process, we were told there were 200 of these animals. Mr. McWeeny decided to omit the fact that we had modified our gear many years ago with sinking ground lines, breakaways in our end lines and more traps on end lines to decrease end lines. Since we did this, entanglements decreased considerably. These animals had increased to almost 500. Then they changed their feeding ground and are going into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they have been killed by entanglements in Canadian fishing gear and ship strikes. Canadian fishermen at this point don’t have to modify anything and the St. Lawrence seaway is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and a growing cruise boat destination.
Maine lobstermen are aware that right whales transit waters of the Maine coast, but our interactions are rare. For example, I have approximately 60,000 hours on the water. To date, I have seen one right whale. In six generations of lobstermen in my family, we have entangled no whales of any kind. Massachusetts fishermen have more regulations than we do because they have right whales feeding and congregating where they fish. Our fishery is made up of thousands of conservationists. You don’t have a fishery last for generations by thinking only of yourself.