Reposted from Maine Lobster Festival
A snapshot of the “Perfect Storm” challenges facing the industry
Unless you’ve been closely following the news in Maine, you probably don’t realize that lobstering as an industry is getting assailed on all sides — and it is deeply and negatively impacting nearly 5,000 lobstermen and their families up and down the coast.
In early September, the environmental group Seafood Watch assigned a “red rating” designation, which discourages individuals and organizations from purchasing Maine and Canadian lobster. The group claims that lobster gear may be responsible for harming the endangered North Atlantic right whales.
This rating system has influenced retailers and food service providers since 1999. Since this designation, several national companies have stopped buying lobster for their products, which has negatively impacted lobstermen already having a rough summer with high fuel and bait prices, as well as low prices per catch.
This is on top of the National Marine Fisheries Service rule implementing new regulations under the federal government’s whale protection plan. The fishermen implemented the new regulations in 2022, but NMFS is in the process of developing additional regulations that will go into effect within the next two years. Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) sued NMFS, arguing that NFMS acted arbitrarily and that the plan doesn’t utilize an objective assessment of the best available data. They maintain that the plan will all but eliminate the lobster fishery, yet still fail to save the endangered whales. On Sept. 8, a federal judge rejected MLA’s lawsuit challenging the data, a ruling that MLA and the State appealed in federal court. MLA submitted a motion for expedited consideration of its appeal, which the federal court granted on Oct. 18.
FACT: There has not been a single known right whale entanglement in Maine lobster gear in almost 20 years.
FACT: Maine lobster gear has never been linked to a right whale death.
FACT: Maine lobstermen have been implementing whale conservation efforts for the last two decades, including modifying and developing innovative gear solutions — at their own expense.
In compliance with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) regulations, lobstermen have, “applied gear markings; implemented sinking ground lines; have moved to weaker lines; inserted ‘weak links’ into vertical lines; and increased the size of their trawls to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water. Through these efforts, the Maine lobster fishery has removed an estimated 30,000 miles of line from the water in order to protect whale species,” according to a statement by Maine Independent Senator Angus King.
For generations, lobstermen have committed to the long-term sustainability of the ocean and the fishery, and care deeply about the preservation of the right whale species. They know their territories like the back of their hands and use colored markings on their lines, so if a right whale ever became entangled, federal officials would know where it occurred.
Except it hasn’t. That’s the point Maine lobstermen like Scarborough lobsterman Greg Turner recently made in a WGME article: Maine lobster gear has never been linked to a right whale death.
“I’ve seen gear that they’ve retrieved from these whales,” Turner said. “And I’ve gone and looked at it. And none of it come from anything that we would use.” Turner pointed out what most lobstermen have been telling officials and at public hearings, “that most right whale deaths are from ship strikes and entanglements in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
According to a statement by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, “NMFS has overestimated the lobster industry’s risk to right whales by cherry-picking the science by using unsupported assumptions and ‘worst-case scenarios’ to justify its mandate for Maine’s lobster fishery to reduce its already minimal risk to right whales by 98 percent. MLA claims that NMFS also failed to follow mandatory legal requirements to assess the economic and social costs of their action.”
While the litigation is ongoing there are ways you, a private citizen, can help preserve this industry from a catastrophic shutdown.
How Can You Help
THOMASTON—On Thursday, Dec. 24, a crowd of 30-40 people gathered in a line at noon, plastic bags in hand, in an empty parking lot off New County Road.
Standing at the back of his pick up truck, Matinicus lobsterman Noah Ames played the proverbial role of Santa, giving away crates of live lobster for free that he and about six other Midcoast lobstermen caught, banded, and transported so that people in the area could have a good Christmas Eve dinner.
During an unprecedented Christmas season, with Americans across the nation suffering economically awaiting a long-delayed $900 billion coronavirus relief package that has still yet to be signed by President Trump and with unemployment benefits set to expire in a matter of days, many people have had to choose between buying food and paying bills.
Ames, with his friend, assisting, chatted with folks as they stepped up to the truck, bag in hand. Given how many people were standing in line, he announced he could only give away four lobsters to each family, with extra to veterans, in the form of a Hannaford gift card he additionally handed out.
Ames started this tradition in 2014. In former stories Pen Bay Pilot has written about Ames over the years, he said, “It’s about teaching my sons the spirit of Christmas. It’s important to learn how to give back.”
Many grateful people left with their bags of lobster, parting with sentiments of “Merry Christmas” and “You’re doing a wonderful thing.”
At a time when every bit of kindness and generosity is coming from Mainers helping Mainers, Ames and his lobstermen friends are an example to the leaders in this country.
This story originally appeared on www.penbaypilot.com
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