The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Brennan Strong is a commercial lobsterman from Yarmouth.
I am a 22-year-old commercial lobsterman. I got my lobster license at 11 years old and I have poured my heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into building my business ever since. I am writing out of deep concern for the future of the lobster fishery because of the newly proposed right whale regulations.
For over 100 years, this industry has been the role model for a sustainable and honorable fishery. We throw back more lobsters than we keep every day, as well as remove litter consistently from the bays where we work. This industry has given thousands of people opportunities to work, dream, and contribute to coastal communities. Lobstering is a way of life and is vital for Maine and its people.
However, the Center for Biological Diversity v. Ross court ruling from Judge James Boasberg requiring the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to have new right whale regulations and a new biological opinion by May 31, 2021 is dangerously premature. The problem is that May 31 is too soon to properly evaluate the scientific and real-life factors at play. The entanglement statistics contain many assumptions and more time is needed to make sure everything is fact-based.
The significant threats to right whales have been and continue to be vessel strikes and entanglement with Canadian fishing gear, not Maine lobster gear. Those threats are not discussed thoroughly in the draft biological opinion, which states:
“NMFS is conducting a review of our vessel strike reduction measures … as it pertains to right whale management. … This review is expected to be released soon.”
How can they impose new regulations by May 31 without a review from the fisheries service? The biological opinion is not complete. Without analyzing the risk posed by vessel strikes and Canadian gear, the reduction requirements for U.S. lobstermen are exceedingly stringent and could phase out our fishery.
At issue is not what Maine lobstermen have done to help save right whales, but rather what other groups have not done. The reason these magnificent creatures are endangered is because of commercial right whale fishing in the 1800s. In 1980, there were only 162 right whales and now there are over 400, with 2020 being a good birth year.
In 2020, Maine lobstermen marked every one of our lines with multiple purple marks, and no purple marks have been found on right whales. Also in 2020, only two dead right whales were found. It would be scientifically dishonest to ignore the parallel between decreased ship traffic in 2020 due to COVID and the lower death rate and higher birth rate of whales that year.
Fishermen need help. We are facing a deadline of Friday to study a more than 500-page biological opinion and make public comments. Giving such limited time to address our legitimate concerns is wrong, considering our lives are on the line. The biological opinion calls for a 98 percent risk reduction in the U.S. lobster fishery by 2030. The result would be death to an industry that built our coast. It would be a threat to policy and science for the May 31 deadline to be upheld and it would be an insult to hardworking, honest fishermen if folks do not fight this issue. We need more time. You cannot rush science.
To save the right whales, vessel strikes and Canadian entanglements need to be addressed more urgently than U.S. entanglements. The biological opinion needs ship strike statistics and a track record proving current ship regulations in the U.S. and Canada are 100 percent enforced and reported.
The Maine lobster industry is being made responsible for a risk that is not ours. I beg everyone from my heart to find some way to influence an extension of the May 31 deadline for as long as it takes to reach a genuine consensus among stakeholders.
Extending this deadline will not harm any whales, but it will save an industry.