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Frustration With Proposed Lobster Gear Regulations Boils Over: 'Someone's Going To Get Killed'

Pat Wellenbach
Associated Press/file
In this March 27, 2009 file photo, a lobsterman throws additional fishing rope onto a pile in Rockland, Maine.

Maine lobstermen's frustrations continued to boil over in Waldoboro Tuesday night, at the second in a series of state presentations on proposed gear restrictions that aim to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.The plan would require all boat owners to weave "weak links" into their ropes that could help whales break free of deadly entanglements. And it would require offshore fishermen to add more traps per trawl line, in an effort to reduce the amount of rope in the water.

"This is not safe. You're thinking about [the] right whale, you're not thinking about us," Vinalhaven lobsterman Frank Thompson told Maine Commissioner of Marine Resources Patrick Keliher.

Thompson said that inexperienced lobstermen would be killed using weaker ropes and unwieldy trawl lines. And, like many there, he called for a more rigorous legal defense of the industry against federal lawsuits by conservation groups seeking more stringent gear changes.

"You got the trap-tag money from us — what is it, 10-cents? — since from 1914," he said. "Where's all this money going? Stand up for us. Get a backbone. Fight."

Cole Baines, a South Thomaston fisherman, says weak links and added traps per line could be a dangerous combination. 

"And you got 25 traps on a weak piece of rope, and when you've got to untangle that, you got your hands all up in a knot like this, someone's going to get killed," Baines said. "That's my concern with the whole thing."

But several in the audience, including Dave Cousins, the former president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, defended Keliher.

"Is it perfect, no, but the 'hell no' crowd 'we're not going to go' is not going to carry the day with what we're facing," Cousins said. "We have to deal with what we're facing. If you want New England Fisheries [regulators] or a judge to make a decision, then just do nothing. Because they will make it for you."

Keliher is expected to approve one new rule Wednesday requiring Maine lobstermen to add identifying purple markings to their gear by next September. The third and final forum on the other proposals is scheduled for Wednesday night in South Portland.

Originally published Nov. 6, 2019 at 6:19 a.m. ET.

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.