Northeast
Hajna Nagy

ME - Hajna Nagy: Who's really in the trap? How new regulations meant to save right whales are hurting Maine's lobster industry

The lobster industry is Maine’s economic engine, supporting the men and women who fish as well as entire coastal communities. Imposing these restrictions limits their catch, not only taking away the opportunity for catch, but making it harder in the process.

OPINION

The lobster industry is Maine’s economic engine, supporting the men and women who fish as well as entire coastal communities. Imposing these restrictions limits their catch, not only taking away the opportunity for catch, but making it harder in the process.

Hajna Nagy

I was five years old, opening my family’s refrigerator door in search of a juice box, when a live lobster fell out and started thrashing around on the floor. Naturally, I immediately screamed and ran out of the kitchen at the sight of this crustacean monster.

That was the first time I really put the pieces together of what my father did for a living. As a local Maine lobsterman, he would often bring home portions of his catch while I was growing up. I’m not sure if that would be the case now if he were still in the industry.

Even in the short span of my lifetime, the Maine fishing industry has faced new challenges as the world changes around us. From warmer waters due to climate change, to labor shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic, to new conservationist laws, lobstering has been riding a “boom-and-bust” roller coaster — the latest twist of which has been new restrictions on lobster harvesting that took effect May 1.

This includes everything from requiring a change of fishermen’s equipment to either rope-less technology or weaker rope and more relaxed knot placement, to blocking off a 950-mile area of the Gulf of Maine off-limits from October to January. Why the new, extensive rules, you may ask?

These regulations are an effort to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale populations, which are known to suffer fatal entanglement in current fishing gear. As the result of the federal government ruling that Maine is not doing enough to comply with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972, these new rules are intended to save the whales from extinction.

Yet, what about the fishermen?

As there are currently less than 340 right whales left in the world, most can agree something needs to be done. But is this necessarily the most effective and least harmful way for all? I argue these new restrictions ultimately miss the mark in terms of the protection goals they intend to achieve, in reality doing more harm than good.

The lobster industry is Maine’s economic engine, supporting the men and women who fish as well as entire coastal communities. Imposing these restrictions limits their catch, not only taking away the opportunity for catch, but making it harder in the process.

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