Maine Department of Marine Resources commissioner Patrick Keliher has sent a letter to NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, refuting a recent memo which suggests that the lobster industry may be playing a role in the decline of the North Atlantic Right Whale.
"This publication, this technical memo as written, really creates a challenge for folks who want to have a conversation that's based on really sound science,” says Jeff Nichols, spokesperson for Maine DMR.
Nichols says, as an example, there's little evidence to support the notion that lobstermen are using "tougher rope" than they did prior to 2015, contributing to entanglements. And he says the memo attempts to link whale entanglement risk to the amount of lobster being landed.
"To say that because Maine landings are on the increase, the risk is also on the increase is not borne out by the data,” Nichols says.
Executive Director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, Patrice McCarron, has also questioned the data and its relevance, as none of the 17 North Atlantic Right Whale deaths recorded last year occurred in Maine, where the bulk of lobstering takes place.
Nichols says the department does have "lingering questions" about what role an emerging Canadian snow crab industry may be playing.
The letter reiterates concerns that have emerged from the industry since the report was released.
The Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team is set to meet next week in Providence, Rhode Island to consider measures including possible zone closures and changes to gear.
The North Atlantic Right Whale is one of the most endangered marine mammals on earth, with numbers estimated at about 450 remaining in the wild.
Conservation experts, and scientists at NOAA, have agreed that ship strikes and gear entanglements are contributing to whale population decline, and hastening the species toward extinction.