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Future of Maine lobster industry at stake over proposed Right Whale protection rules

The rules would restrict fishing in certain areas and require thousands of Maine fishermen to purchase expensive rope-less gear.
AP File
AP File(Robert F. Bukaty | AP)
Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 2:01 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - America’s lobster fishery is getting close to the date when it will have to contend with new rules designed to try to save a species of whale from extinction.

I spoke with one Maine lobsterman who says if the rules are put in place, the lobster industry will be facing the same fate.

”We’re not at fault. Maine fishermen are not at fault,” said John Drouin, who has been lobstering in Cutler for 42 years.

He says new federal regulations designed to protect the endangered species of North Atlantic Right Whales will be grave and costly to the industry.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is developing new rules, set to be finalized by May 31st, to reduce the possibility of entanglement in fishing gear, which can kill the whales.

”I realize the debate keeps going back and forth, but if you listen to the groups that are pressuring NOAA to do something, all they say is whales are entangled. We don’t deny that. All we’re saying is the whales aren’t being entangled in Maine waters,” said Drouin.

Drouin says the rules could put thousands of Maine lobstermen out of work for something he says the industry can’t be blamed for.”

“Every time the scientists have said, you need to do this to protect the whales, we have done that, but they keep asking for more and more,” Drouin said.

The rules would restrict fishing in certain areas and require thousands of Maine fishermen to purchase expensive rope-less gear.

”No fisherman can afford to buy these devices. If I had to buy them right now for my gear, it would cost me over $240,000 based on the current cost,” said Drouin.

Maine’s congressional delegation has joined in the fight to protect Maine’s lobstermen, sending a letter to President Biden last week.

In the letter, the members state, “Since 2002, there has not been a single right whale serious injury or mortality that has been attributed to the Gulf of Maine or Georges Bank lobster fishery.”

Governor Mills also went to bat for the industry saying, “If this comes to pass, it is not only fishermen and their crew who will be impacted, gear suppliers, trap builders, rope manufacturers - all these businesses face a deeply uncertain future.”

Drouin says he doesn’t want to see the lobster industry disappear, not only for his sake but for his two boys, who are following in his footsteps.

”I have two sons that are in their early 20s that are in the fishery. I’ve been in it for 42 years. I’d like for them to be able to say that they made a career out of it as well,” added Drouin.

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