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Environment and Outdoors

Commissioner To Lobstermen: Maine's Plan For Reducing Whale Entanglements Is Best Option

Michael Dwyer
Associated Press/file
In this March 28, 2018 file photo, a North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass.

Representatives of Maine's lobster industry are taking issue with the state’s proposal to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale from entanglements in their gear.

To meet a federal mandate that risk to whales be reduced by at least 50 percent, the state is proposing that lobstermen in different areas of the state be allowed to tailor their response. That could include using less rope to haul the same number of traps, placing "weak links" in their lines that adult whales can break through, or even reducing the overall number of traps they fish.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, says that she appreciates the state’s effort to protect the industry, but says it falls short.

"It's because it's based on the level of risk reduction that they are seeking, and we just fundamentally disagree with that approach," McCarron says.

At a meeting in Augusta Tuesday of the state Lobster Advisory Council, made up of lobstermen from each of the lobster harvest zones, Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher told skeptical lobstermen that the state's plan is a better option than what might be proposed by the federal government or the courts.

Keliher said the state is asking the feds for some flexibility across all seven lobster fishing zones, as it seeks to come up with a plan to reduce entanglement risk to whales.

"I mean, we've kind of browbeat into them over and over and over that Zone A is different than F, and D is different than G. I mean, the geographical differences, the oceanographic differences - all those things, just the traditions in how people fish, are completely different up and down the coast," Keliher said. "And they need to find a way to recognize that. And I'm getting good signals that they're understanding that now and they want to find a way to work with us."

Lobster Advisory Council Chair Joshua Miller, of Tenants Harbor, said the fishermen are in a no-win situation.

But, he added, "The most important thing that we all realize is that we are all Maine fishermen. We're all in this together. But if we give the zones some latitude, then at least that gives the ability to accommodate for those regional differences."

The federal government is expected to make a final decision this winter.

Commissioner Keliher will be a guest on Maine Calling Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. on Maine Public Radio.