Lobster fishermen evaluate their catch in Bass Harbor, Maine / University of Maine

Maine Lobstermen’s Association rejects DMR whale proposal

ELLSWORTH — Efforts to find consensus over how to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales from entanglement in fishing gear without decimating the Maine lobster industry took a blow last week.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) announced that it would not support a plan developed by the Department of Marine Resources “because it seeks reductions that exceed the documented risk posed by the Maine lobster fishery” and “creates unresolved safety and operational challenges for some sectors of the lobster industry,” MLA Executive Director Patrice McCarron said in an email Saturday.

The MLA decision came late last week after DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher held a series of meetings with lobstermen in Ellsworth, Waldoboro and South Portland.

The meetings were held to present the department’s response to a proposal by the National Marine Fisheries Service that would require a 50 percent reduction in the number of vertical endlines, which connect lobster traps to buoys on the surface, used by Maine lobstermen.

The goal, according to NMFS, was to reduce the risk of right whale entanglement in fishing gear by 60 percent.

Throughout the summer, DMR developed an alternative plan that called for many Maine lobstermen to “trawl up” by fishing more traps in strings attached to one or two endlines.

In federal waters far offshore, where a relatively small number of Maine lobstermen set gear, the plan called for trawls of as many as 40 traps.

Lobster industry advocates say the proposal goes too far and will have a negligible impact on reducing the risks faced by right whales.

“The MLA conducted a thorough analysis of fishing gear removed from entangled right whales, which revealed that lobster is the least prevalent gear,” McCarron said. “The MLA is also concerned the state’s plan creates unresolved safety and operational challenges for some sectors of the lobster industry.”

While the DMR proposal is less drastic than the 50 percent reduction in lines proposed by NMFS, many fishermen believe it is unsafe as well as unfair.

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