In today’s world, it is hard to discern truth from opinion, or fact from calculated lies. We rely on the press helping us navigate this. The fact is that in 2020 a very encouraging uptick in right whale births was observed with at least 14 newborns reported.

The fact is also that no documented right whale death has ever been attributed to Maine lobstermen. There has only been one known entanglement in the past 20 years (2012). That whale was disentangled and set free.

The loss of right whales in the last four years is indeed tragic. After all, the population had grown from an estimated 264 to 481 in an incredibly short time period. From 1990 to 2011, we saw the right whale population rebound and reproduce at rates that pointed to recovery.

No one predicted the movement of the copepods that they depend on for their food source. This scarcity of food and the journey to find it undoubtedly caused excess stress, and contributed heavily to years of slow birth rates. The new food source they found was in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, far from the protective regulations that Maine fishermen have adopted. Everyone knows the results. The combination of ship strikes and snow crab gear entanglement was catastrophic, but had nothing to do with Maine lobster gear. The “guilt by association” assumption by environmental groups and NOAA/NMFS is unwarranted and unacceptable. All gear does not pose the same risk.

I’ve been fishing for 44 years off Mount Desert Rock, approaching 60,000 hours of sea time and have yet to see a right whale. No one cares more about Gulf of Maine and all its creatures than fishermen whose livelihoods depend on a thriving ocean. The lobster industry is not only an integral part of Maine’s coastal culture, it supports tens of thousands of people, many hundreds of related businesses including tourism, with an estimated contribution of at least $2 billion on the Maine economy.

Maine lobstermen have already made numerous expensive and time-consuming changes to their gear to protect marine mammals. We’ve added weak links to buoy lines and all floating devices, made floating rope at the surface illegal, minimized knots, added multiple gear markers, eliminated 27,000 miles of floating rope between traps, and trawled up, removing 2,700 miles of vertical lines.

As long as life has existed on the planet species have gone in and out of existence. Dinosaurs are the easiest example, and you can’t blame humans for that one. Survival of the fittest was in play long before we stood up). What about the other endangered species, currently estimated to be over one million in number? It is safe to say there are endangered species in every major city in the United States and in the world. Yet we are not talking about radically altering or abandoning cities. What’s motivating environmental groups that are terrifying fishermen with lawsuits? Why are they advocating for certain species while ignoring millions of others? Is it concern about the species or economic concerns?

If we were to adhere to the strict parameters of the Endangered Species Act, it would be next to impossible for us to inhabit the U. S. Aware of it or not, we are all interacting with endangered species, by replacing habitat, using chemicals/pesticides and plastics, and contributing greenhouses gases to the atmosphere affecting global warming.

Recently, an article by Bob Duchesne in the Bangor Daily News caught my attention, “Why have 2.9 billion birds disappeared?” Citing international scientists under the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, he states, “Over the past 50 years …One out of every 4 birds is gone.” Why? While the answer is complicated, he identified population explosion (from 200 million to 329 million people), the resulting need for land for housing, food and energy production, wetland drainage, pesticide use, and climate change.” Shorebird populations have shrunk by a third, and forest birds almost as much. “What most scares the bejeebers out of ornithologists is the decline in common birds… We’ve worried about endangered species for so long, we failed to comprehend how un-endangered species were doing.”

The planet is rapidly evolving, with humans at the center of the change. A close look at the evidence shows that Maine lobster gear has not contributed to a decline in the right whale population. We’ve made many time-consuming and costly changes in our fishing practices to help maintain the population, and will continue to do so. It’s become clear to me that the environmental groups that are pushing the lobster fishery to extinction are more interested in their own financial resources than the truth. The money they spend on lawsuits could be better spent on research, whale surveillance by drones, and ways to prevent global pollution. Maine lobstermen will continue to work to help this magnificent mammal thrive in the future.

Jack Merrill is a member of Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-Op, member of the Maine Lobsterman’s Association and an advisor to the Lobster Institute. The views expressed in this column are his own.

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