Web exclusive, July 19, 2019
Lobstermen rally in Stonington to educate, oppose pending whale rules
Collins, Pingree, and Golden to speak
The public is invited to a rally on the Stonington Commercial Fish Pier Sunday, July 21, from 12 to 2 p.m. to learn more about pending federal regulations on whale protection which are expected to impact Maine’s lobstering fleet.
by Faith DeAmbrose
Maine’s top-grossing commercial fishing port will be the site of a rally this Sunday, July 21, as fishermen from across the state come together to bring attention to an issue that could affect the livelihood of lobstermen: pending National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regulations to reduce the number of vertical trap lines used by lobstermen in the Gulf of Maine. The rally will also be used to educate the public about the impact those regulations could have on Maine’s fishing fleet, said Captain Julie Eaton, a lobsterman who turned an idea into an event.
The regulations aim to protect North Atlantic right whales, which were added to the federal endangered species list in 1970. The Department of Marine Resources is currently considering ways to reduce the trap lines, with options including more traps per trawl line or lowering the number of trap tags issued, to reduce whale entanglements.
“We have a voice and we need to use it now,” said Eaton. “There is big power when we come together and this is a chance for our politicians to hear our voice.”
For Eaton, the issue is safety of the fishermen and the fact that the science NOAA is using to make the changes does not seem to support the realities on the water for Maine lobstermen. “Fishermen are not against regulation. We have spent a lot of money to conform to regulations in the past, we just want to be sure that [anything proposed] will be effective.”
The rally, which will take place from 12 to 2 p.m. at Stonington’s Commercial Fish Pier, will draw Senator Susan Collins, Congressman Jared Golden and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree to town on Sunday to address attendees and to listen to the fishermen’s concerns. A representative for Senator Angus King will also attend, according to the United States Congressional Office.
Maine’s delegation has been active in opposing the proposed regulations that call for a “60 percent serious injury and mortality reduction goal in each of the lobster management areas.”
Senators King and Collins along with Representatives Pingree and Golden sent a letter to NOAA in May asking a series of questions and demanding “parity on whale conservation plans” across the U.S. and Canada.
Golden and Pingree also proposed an amendment to block the use of a NOAA data tool used to support the proposed changes. The amendment was voted down on June 21.
Any changes, once adopted, would amend the existing federal Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (TRT) under the Maine Mammal Protection Act. The TRT was adopted by NOAA in 1999 to “help develop plans to mitigate the risk to marine mammals posed by fishing gear,” according to the organization, and designed to be “an evolving plan that would change as whale researchers learn more about the status of whale stocks and gain a clearer understanding of how and where entanglements occur.”
The recommendations come from a majority of the TRT team who met in April during a three-day conference in Rhode Island.
The recommendations, which include a 50 percent reduction in vertical trap lines, said Eaton, would mean that fishermen would need to string more lobster traps together, and that, she said, is a safety concern for some of Maine’s fishing fleet. Noting the advanced age of many of the area’s fishermen, Eaton said that moving from single traps to a string of four inshore or from 15 traps to 40 traps offshore would mean additional line at a fisherman’s feet when the first trap goes overboard. She also said that for many fishermen those changes would result in the need for a larger boat.
Eaton said she plans not just to talk about the impact but to show it with a demonstration provided by Brooks Trap Mill. The Thomaston-based company will bring 55 lobster traps to give a visual representation of what changes to regulations would mean for fishermen.
Other confirmed speakers at the Sunday event include Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings, Vinalhaven Town Manager Andy Dorr, and Maine Lobstering Union representative Dave Sullivan.
According to NOAA, The population of the North Atlantic right whale is believed to be roughly 400. So far in 2019, six right whales have been killed in Canadian waters, with no reported deaths in U.S. waters. Since 2017, 26 deaths have been reported in Canada (18) and the U.S.(8). In the United States, the last reported right whale death occurred in October 2018 offshore of Nantucket, Mass., and none were reported to have occurred in Maine. Of those 26 deaths, eight have been undetermined; eight a result of blunt force trauma (likely a vessel strike); seven from possible or suspected entanglement; and three investigations are pending.