STONINGTON — The imagery that comes to mind when we consider the coast of Maine is of an idyllic harbor, with lobster boats bobbing on their moorings and a seagull soaring overhead. Signs beckon, advertising lobster dinners and lobster rolls, fresh-caught from the cold, salty sea at their doorstep.

Lobster is to Maine what apple pie is to Grandma’s kitchen. On the coast, it is the cornerstone of our cultural identity. Many of us enjoy eating lobster and sharing that experience with our families, friends and visitors from away, but it seems few of us pause to consider the people who provide that meal for our dinner plate. They are the hardworking men and women who run the boats and docks, sell our catch in fish markets and restaurants, shovel bait, drive trucks and build traps.

The Maine lobster industry is modestly valued at $1.5 billion and supports tens of thousands of Maine jobs, many of which are in rural and island communities with few other economic prospects. The fishery also provides an opportunity for young people to stay in Maine. While my siblings and classmates left the islands to attend college and pursue careers out of state, I was able to stay, raise a family and contribute to my community in a meaningful way — because I am a lobsterman.

As fishermen, we take great pride in our heritage and our relationship with the sea. Few people are fortunate to have as intimate a connection with the changes of the seasons, the weather and the tides. We are stewards of the sea and depend on a vibrant and thriving marine ecosystem for our success. The current regulatory argument over North Atlantic right whale protections is not between lobstermen and whales. Whales are an amazing and integral part of the ocean system. The question is how to move forward with regulations that will best protect this struggling species and the fishery.

Reducing vertical lines in areas of the Gulf of Maine where North Atlantic right whales are visiting less frequently and for shorter durations due to the shift of their primary planktonic food source, is not an effective solution. To protect right whales we need binational policy and research collaboration focused on learning the North Atlantic right whale’s adaptative migration patterns based on oceanographic conditions that best support their primary prey. Reducing the potential of a right whale being entangled based on where they were, instead of where they are, will not save any whales, but will inflict grave damage on the Maine lobster fishery and the coastal communities that depend on it.

Instead of dedicating resources to crafting effective regulations that would help protect right whales, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is demanding arbitrary restrictions that will benefit neither right whales nor Maine lobstermen. These regulations would check a box in Washington, D.C., and temporarily appease the special interest groups who neither understand nor care about what lobster means to the people of Maine. It is hard to draw a direct line between these developing rules and actual remedy or relief for right whales. It is time for us to stand up for Maine lobstermen, to demand peer-reviewed science, dedicated resources and effective, rather than arbitrary, regulations that value the people who contribute to one of Maine’s most iconic industries.

 


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