More than 60 lobstermen turned out last night for a meeting in Machias with federal regulators, where many fumed over proposed new regulations for the gear they use to haul their traps.
Federal regulators say lobstermen may have to remove as much as half their rope from the water to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale from potentially deadly entanglements.
Many lobstermen, including Harrington lobsterman Joel Strout, said the government should first make sure that Canada is taking action, because that’s where, over the last few years, 20 whales have been found dead, while none have been found off Maine.
“It’s just all a bunch of foolishness,” Strout said, “and if our neighbors to the north, Canada, can’t do at least what we have to do, I don’t think we should have to do anything.”
A federal scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Colleen Coogan, told lobstermen that the government has not been able to definitively trace the death of an endangered North Atlantic right whale to entanglement with gear from a Maine lobster trap.
But Coogan said federal law requires that the risk of harm be drastically reduced to less than one human-caused whale death a year.
“When there’s 600,000 lines, the chance of a whale interacting with your line might be low, but the chance of a whale interacting with line where’s there’s a lot of line, the chance goes up because there’s a lot of line,” Coogan said. “There’s only 400 whales.”
Or fewer, according to the latest NOAA estimates. But lobstermen said they’ve already taken action to protect the whales, including adopting sinking ground lines that stay out of the whales’ way — line that has proven expensive and dangerous for the fishermen themselves.
Charles Smith, a Jonesport lobsterman, held up a hand with two truncated fingers he said he injured handling such gear.
“I would like to see the state make sure that we get separated from everyone else on our markings, and let us prove that it’s not us that’s killing the whales,” Smith said.