Right Whale Protections by NOAA Spark Debate in Community

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Steve Train, a Lobsterman, Standing in Front of HIs Lobster Boat, at Luke’s Lobster, Portland.

Logo for Environment Maine, of Which Anya Fetcher is the Executive Director.

Alan Tracy, President of Vessel Services, Inc.

Lobsters are to Maine as baked beans are to Boston – so the news that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released new regulations earlier this week designed to protect right whales would be controversial comes as no surprise. Can you imagine baked beans being banned from Boston for a few months?

Upon the release of the new regulations, Governor Janet T. Mills, (D) issued a statement calling the new regulations “extremely disappointing.”  She vowed to work “with Maine’s Congressional delegation to determine the best way to address the industry’s and administration’s concern.”  She went on to say that the “gear making scheme is very different than what was in the proposed rule.  NOAA continues to include an offshore seasonal closure that is not rooted in right whale sightings or surveys.”  I will always stand up for the interests of Maine’s lobster industry in the face of burdensome and undue regulations and we will continue to work with our partners in the lobster industry to support this vital part of Maine’s economy and heritage.”

Lobsterman Steve Train said that he did not think these new regulations were necessary.   “I don’t think we are a risk to the whales as they claim we are.  The problem is the way the law is written.  We are not a risk” he said. “These changes will cost us a lot of money.”

Alan Tracy, President of Vessel Services, Inc. said:  “A lot is being heaped on lobstermen these days.  The health of the lobster industry is another challenge they face.  It is important for everyone to realize just how important of an economic engine lobster is to the state.  We need to find ways to support lobstermen.”

Meanwhile, several fishermen on another Portland wharf were not shy about their feelings for Maine’s lobstermen.  “Lobstermen want a free ride.  They think they own the ocean.  They have to learn to share our natural resources,” said Mark.  A lobsterman told this blogger:  “We can work around it.  Only a little sliver is closed.  It’s a big ocean.”

Anya Fletcher, Executive Director of Environment Maine, said the NOAA regulations don’t go far enough.  She and other environmental agencies are calling for the agency to do better.  According to Fletcher, recent estimates put the North Atlantic right whale population at 356, the lowest in decades.  “Scientists have linked the whale species’ decline to deaths from fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes.  North Atlantic right whales, which spend most of their lives swimming along the US and Canadian coastlines, have been dying in unusually high numbers since 2017.

“To stave off extinction, NOAA estimates that we can afford to lose less than one right whale to human-caused mortality per year.  However, this year alone, fishing gear entanglements have already killed two right whales.  While the 2021 calving season saw the largest number of right whales born since 2016, the 16 new births still fell short of the two dozen new whales that scientists ay are necessary to restore the species.

“It’s good to see NOAA taking action to protect the endangered right whale, but unfortunately, the plan…falls short.  By our reading, the net effect will be to delay the extinction of this beautiful, massive creature.  What we need is a plan to save it,” Fletcher’s press release said.