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Lobstermen Deeply Troubled by Proposed Whale Regulations

On May 31, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is under a court order to finalize a series of regulations designed to protect the North Atlantic right whale and to begin implementation of its new Biological Opinion on the lobster and nine other fixed gear fisheries in U.S. waters. Maine lobstermen and others concerned about the impact these regulations will have on social and economic fabric of the Maine coast submitted comments opposing the regulations. Lobstermen repeatedly pointed out that Maine lobster gear is not driving the right whale decline and that a 98% reduction in risk to right whales as required under the Biological Opinion would effectively close the fishery. We present excerpts from selected letters here.

Michael Hunt, Corea I am deeply troubled by the proposed new regulations and the disproportionate effect they will have on the lobster industry. … Maine lobster fishermen and women are stewards of the environment. Our livelihoods and those of future generations depend on maintaining a healthy and thriving ocean. When asked of us we have always answered the call to action, with an eye towards sustainable conservation of the lobster resource and the surrounding marine environment as a whole. Placing the brunt of responsibility of the right whales’ continued survival on the Maine lobster fishery is at best misguided, and at worst could potentially destroy an iconic and environmentally sustainable industry while providing no real benefit for right whales. … The lobster industry is being made responsible for risk that is not ours. We need to know that Canada and the rest of the U.S. fishing fleet is on par with Maine’s current rules that have been saving whales for decades.

Zach Lunt, Frenchboro I am a 4th-generation lobsterman and I have two sons who fish for lobsters. I have been lobstering full time since 2001 when I graduated Mount Desert High School. … Maine lobster gear is obviously no threat to the whales. I can say without a doubt these rules seek to destroy the lobstermen. The real risk here is to our livelihoods, heritage and our way of living. I know where I’m from -- a small island town called Frenchboro -- is 100% dependent on lobstering. I also know much of the Maine coast is also like this. If you care about right whales then you need to work with the shipping and cruising industries that are running into them and leave the Maine lobstermen alone. … Lobstermen have taken care of the resource. We have been stewards to the ocean and its other inhabitants as well. Please listen to me and the lobstermen. Thank you for your time.

Kevin Glover, Owls Head I am 37 years old and have lobstered my whole life. I am also the Zone D-8 representative for the fishermen of Owl’s Head. I made a choice at the age of 17 to make a career out of lobstering. I had a choice to either go in debt while going to college or go in debt starting a business, either way it was going to be a lifelong commitment. … I hope that what you have heard from our fisherman is that a one-size-fits-all plan is not the right way to go about this. I feel that the conservation equivalencies that Maine and the zone councils have brought up are important. I also don’t support the LMA 1 closure. I do not fish out in Area 1, but I do know that if you have a closure in Area 1 it will cause those guys to move their gear and put pressure on other fishing grounds.

Joseph B. McDonald, Jonesport I own and operate the F/V Miss B Haven a 40-foot lobster boat, which day fishes out of Jonesport. I am writing in opposition to the rules being proposed. These rules will essentially close the Maine lobster fishery inside of 10 years while adding no value to the incidental catch of any whales, much less a right whale. … Speaking to the economic impact on my operation and family, it will displace a 50-year-old lobster fisherman who has worked 30 years to start to realize some debt-free ownership in my business assets. It will render them worthless, eliminate my only source of income, and probably leave my daughter unable to attend college in four years unless she can secure private loans. … To put people ashore when they have no connection to the loss of this species is WRONG!

Carrie Faulkingham, Winter Harbor I live in Winter Harbor Maine with my husband and 3 children. 100% of our family’s income comes from lobster fishing. If these rules are implemented lobstering would be reduced by 98% in the next decade. My family could not survive if these rules are implemented. No doubt you will read thousands of comments supporting the rules. But that is because power organizations like CLF and the Humane Society will organize people from all over the country to write in on an issue they know nothing about. Here’s what I know. In 25 years of fishing as a captain, and nearly 40 years of being on the water, my husband has never entangled a whale of any species, or even seen a single right whale in his life. Please listen to our pleas. My family’s life depends on this.

Isaac Dworsky I’m a Maine commercial lobster license holder and I believe that these proposed regulations and 98% reduction in impact are misguided. They will result in the end of a tradition and way of life that defines this state and also generates a huge amount of money for it. The onus on harm reduction needs to be placed where it will have effect and that is with big ships. Nobody has more of an interest in keeping the ocean healthy than lobsterman who rely on it and put their faith in it for survival each day.

Susan Hutchinson, Deer Isle The current proposed rule, if passed, will have a devastating effect on local coastal fishing communities and will be largely ineffective in regard to protecting North Atlantic right Whales. The incidents of whale entanglements and boat strikes have occurred largely in Canadian waters, not US waters. It is ridiculous to punish Maine fishermen for whale injuries and deaths that don’t even occur in our water. Coastal communities, such as our island of Deer Isle, depend on the lobster industry as the foundation of the local economy. Banks, schools, grocery stores, fuel and bait trucks drivers, etc, depend largely upon the lobster industry. If lobster goes down, the entire backbone of the community will be broken. Families will move away. The schools will see massive decreases in enrollment. Banks will foreclose on house mortgages. The effects will be swift and vast. As a lobster fisherman’s wife, I am asking that this proposed rule be stopped before it starts. Thank you for your consideration.

Richard Osgood, Lincolnville I have been a commercial lobsterman since 1994. I fish in Penobscot Bay. … On my boat my wife and I are the whole crew. Our entire income is on the line. The money I spend in the local economy is huge. These coming regulations would cripple the economy and take everything away from me that I have spent a lifetime building. My business is everything I own. … We can in no way fish ropeless gear. It will not work. We have a hard time setting gear when we can see the other gear marked by vertical lines. Not only would the cost be beyond absorbable, it cannot work when you cannot see the gear you’re setting over that set before you arrived. There would be an unimaginable amount of lost ghost gear. Please do not take my life, and the life of our total local economy and throw it away. It is not going to save the whales, and we will all be dead inside.

Lucas Cates If the whale regulations pass they will destroy the economy in the state of Maine. … There has only been one recorded report of a right whale becoming entangled in lobster gear, and most deaths are due to large ships striking the whales. You should try to focus on more apparent and important issues then trying to shaft the smaller self-employed fisherman!

Joshua Todd, Chebeague Island Hello! I am a 19-year-old fisherman from Chebeague Island. I own a 45-foot lobster boat and go lobstering, scalloping, tuna fishing and pogie seining. At 17 I upgraded from my 30-foot Repco to my 45-foot Novi, flying to Nova Scotia the day after my high school graduation and steaming it home. I bought my Area 1 lobster permit at 18 and began fishing Zone F and G offshore in the winter. I pour my heart and soul into fishing, being a 11th-generation fisherman. I can’t imagine doing anything else or wanting to do anything else. I would love to do this good forever. … I actually don’t mind at all making it so it’s a safer place for whales in the Gulf of Maine, but I also don’t want to be jobless in 10 years. I like the idea of the purple markers cause if one did get caught up in an endline you could see where it was from. I guess I’m not sure exactly what to say besides I’d hate to see this industry brought to its knees due to over regulations.

Joseph Allen, Rockland I have been fishing for 25 years in West Penobscot Bay and offshore out to 30 miles. I testify I have never seen a large whale of any sorts in my career as a lobsterman. The rule of additional traps I fear will create a lot more accidents and loss of gear. With our rocky seafloor the occurrences of hang downs will increase, inevitably parting rope. Additional traps on the boat will throw the ballast off on rough days. Also the increase of traps will cause them to shift, possibly harming crew. Some boats are not equipped to handle the increase of traps, as such captains will either have to upgrade boats or give up offshore fishing. We as an industry took the initiative to come up with our own color marking. This will help with identifying any whale accidents. … I urge that we have more time to collect more data, especially now that each state has its own color markings. In the meantime, come up with a tracking system that is safe and effective. Together we can make a difference while preserving our fishing heritage.

Charles E. Smith, Jonesport I am a 5th-generation lobster fisherman from Maine. I have 3 teenagers, they are all in the student program to become fishermen. Our community consists of two towns, Jonesport and Beals Island, with a population of about 1200. We are completely dependent on our lobster fishery, it’s what we do … I have fished for 40 years and my father has for 60 and my 3 brothers fish as well. We have never seen a right whale. We have never caught a whale of any kind with our trap gear. We all fish in federal waters. We have limited our number of traps in the name of saving whales. We have put gear markings in our endlines in the name of whales. We have gone to weak links in the name of whales, which cost us a lot of float gear that ended up on shores all over the world. … We are not the problem with these whales. Please take our community and heritage in account when you make decisions. PS My crew and I stop and take in the beauty when we are fortunate enough to see a minke whale or a humpback in the fall. If the fishermen were catching whales we would have already figured out how to stop it. No one wants these whales hurt, especially the people on the water every day.

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