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Hundreds Of Maine Lobstermen Protest Federal Regulations At Stonington Unity Rally

Fred Bever
/
Maine Public
Jean Smith of Deer Isle was among the crowd protesting the federal proposal, "I've seen many industries go and this is our stronghold. If we lose it, we're done. Lobsters are it."

Hundreds of lobstermen and their allies turned out for a unity rally in Stonington Sunday.

They were protesting a federal proposal to cut by half the rope they use to haul their traps – a measure to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale from potentially deadly entanglements.

Winter Harbor lobsterman Philip Torrey says the industry has adapted to numerous federally mandated gear changes over the years, and he says the latest proposal could force him to connect more traps to each of his lines, adding cost and danger to his work.

“We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to,” Torrey says. “They can’t show where we’re killing right whales or even seen right whales. And yet every time that you think you’ve done what you’re supposed to do and taken a step forward, you take a deep sigh and take about five steps back.”

Maine lobstermen point out that most recent whale deaths have turned up off Canada and Massachusetts.

Top elected officials from Maine — including Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, spoke at the event — giving some lobstermen heart that their voices are being heard. The politicians are pushing the Trump administration to postpone or soften the proposed rules.

“Blaming our lobster industry for the deaths of the right whale, that is absurd,” says Collins. “There are no better conservationists than the lobster men and women in Maine.”

But regional conservation groups say there are fewer than 411 of the whales left on the planet, and they are suing the government for fast action under the Endangered Species Act.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.