Maine lobstermen, politicians rally in protest of fishing restrictions and boycott
Moves to protect endangered North Atlantic Right Whale spark outcry
PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) - Maine lobstermen and their elected leaders are fighting back over two setbacks this week -- one in court and one in the marketplace -- that could threaten their livelihood.
At a rally in Portland on Friday, they protested a federal judge’s ruling allowing the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to impose limits on where and how lobstermen fish in order to protect endangered North Atlantic Right Whales.
Gov. Janet Mills said, “Regulations that are not based on sound science, not proven fact, and will often pose a risk of devastating Maine’s lobster industry! These guys are fed up. I’m fed up. We’re all fed up!”
The rally was also protesting Seafood Watch, a California-based sustainable seafood advocacy group now advising food distributors and restaurants to boycott Maine lobster.
“These people are trying to put this industry out of business. They are telling people all over the country and the world not to buy Maine lobsters!” said Sen. Angus King. “These folks never came to Maine. They never went on a boat. They never talked to any lobstermen.
Lobstermen say they’re not to blame for whale entanglements or deaths.
Curt Brown, a lobsterman and marine biologist, said, “Zero documented entanglements of the right whale in Maine lobster gear since 2004, and zero documented mortalities in Maine lobster gear ever!”
The Conservation Law Foundation intervened in the state and lobstermen’s lawsuit againstNOAA in favor of restrictions, noting there are thought to be only 350 right whales left.
“It’s not okay to sit on our hands and watch a species go extinct, and that’s what’s going to happen if we can’t address vertical lines in water and ship strikes,” said CLF Executive Vice President Sean Mahoney in an interview. “We are losing right whales to entanglements, and we can’t definitively identify if it’s a Canadian rope or a Maine rope in the past, because they hadn’t been marked. So, we don’t know. We do know vertical lines are the leading cause of the death of these creatures.”
Maine lobstermen now mark their rope and have modified their gear, eliminating floating ropes, the kind most prone to entangle right whales, removing 30,000 miles of vertical lines from the water, increasing the number of traps on the lines left.
They say more right whales are sighted and die in Canadian waters than in the Gulf of Maine.
“There is no more sustainable seafood in this country than the Maine lobster,” said lobsterman Steve Train, who has been fishing in Maine waters for decades. “I have never in my life seen a right whale.”
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