Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 25, 2019
Lobstermen’s rally targets lack of science behind right whale rules
Governor Janet Mills, left, and Senator Susan Collins attend the July 21 lobstermen’s rally at the Stonington Fish Pier.
by Anne Berleant
A rally designed to draw attention to impending federal regulations that would strike a big blow to the local lobster fishing industry drew hundreds of fishermen, their families and supporters from up and down the coast to the Stonington Commercial Fish Pier.
The rally, organized by Captain Julie Eaton, also drew Governor Janet Mills, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Congressman Jared Golden, a representative for former governor Paul LePage and State Senate President Troy Jackson, who spoke alongside lobstermen from Stonington, Winter Harbor and North Haven, Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings, Marie Hutchinson of the Island Fishermen’s Wives Association and local students. A representative from Senator Angus King’s office also attended, as did local state representatives.
“It’s important,” Eaton said, as people streamed to the fish pier from land and water. “Our voice matters.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has proposed regulations to reduce trap lines by up to 50 percent to prevent entanglements by North Atlantic right whales, a federally listed endangered species since 1970.
But hundreds of Maine lobstermen signed a petition at the rally declaring they had never seen a right whale in the Gulf of Maine.
“It is now time for NOAA to listen to you,” Sen. Collins said, promising, with the rest of the delegation, to press President Trump to address the new rules. The Maine delegation has already written him asking him to intervene in the implementation of the new regulations.
Members of the political delegation learned more about the science behind lobster fishing and right whales at the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries before arriving at the rally.
Warming ocean waters have turned right whales in search of food northward from the Gulf of Maine, to Canada, and right whale entanglements with trap lines are overwhelmingly in Canadian waters, Collins said she’d learned. There have been six reported right whale deaths in Canada this year, and no reported entanglements in Maine waters for the last three years.
“Food for right whales is increasingly not ever found in waters where Maine fishermen are fishing,” Collins said before taking the podium. “Particularly at the depths lobstermen lay their traps. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
For the lobstermen who spoke at the rally, the proposed new rules, which would mean increasing the number of traps on a trawl line or reducing the number of traps they fish, are just one more layer of regulations being handed down from above.
“Maine’s done its part for 20 years to help the right whale,” Stonington lobsterman Richard Larrabee Jr. said, noting that right whale populations have almost doubled since 1990.
Winter Harbor lobsterman Phil Torrey agreed. “We’ve done our part since day one,” he said.
The new rules come at a time when the lobster industry is dealing with a changing market and bait shortages, something Governor Mills addressed.
“These issues are difficult enough without the heavy hand of federal government trying to make life even harder for you and your families through misguided regulations, ones not even supported by data,” Mills said. “Maine’s lobster industry is a critical pillar of our state’s economy and it’s that way because of your hard work and that of generations before you.”
Congressman Jared Golden, the last to speak, has been speaking with local lobstermen and bringing their issues to Washington, D.C., earning him the nickname “Captain Ahab” on the House floor, he said.
“There’s no better voice about why it is that we truly believe, from the bottom of our hearts, that Maine lobstermen are not a part of the problem when it comes to the right whales than yourselves,” Golden told the lobstermen. “You’re the best advocates for yourselves.”