Regulators Propose Rule That Could Show How Big A Problem Maine Fishing Gear Is For Right Whales

Sep 11, 2019

State regulators are proposing a new requirement that lobstermen put purple marks on their gear. It's a measure intended to provide better information about the origin of rope that entangles endangered North Atlantic right whales and other marine animals.

A huge pile of lobster rope is collected in a warehouse in Rockland, Maine, on Friday, March 27, 2009
Credit Pat Wellenbach / Maine Public

Right now Maine lobstermen fishing in federal waters and elsewhere are required to put red marks on their rope — the same requirement that lobstermen in other east coast states have. Changing to a unique color could shed light on the contentious issue of whether Maine's fishery actually poses a threat to the whales.

"We're going to put our money where our mouth is," says Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

"We're saying that Maine gear is not the problem, so when you lump a red mark the whole Maine fishery from Lubec Maine, Eastport Maine to Cape Cod, we need to differentiate ourselves," she says.

The state Department of Marine Resources will hold a hearing on the proposal October 2. Federal officials, meanwhile, have started a rule-making process that would include finer-grained gear marking for each state. It also could require Maine lobstermen to pull half of their rope out of the water.

The industry and its allies in Maine are fighting that proposal.