Environmentalists and the lobster industry have rarely agreed on anything related to the effort to save the North Atlantic right whale. So when they do, people should pay attention.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now taking comment on its Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, aimed at reducing risk of rope entanglements and ship strikes to the endangered mammal by at least 60%.

Environmentalists focused on saving the right whale say it doesn’t go far enough, while Maine lobstermen say the proposed changes would cripple the $485 million-a-year industry.

But members of both sides say no one has enough information to say that the sweeping changes would be effective.

There’s no doubt the North Atlantic right whale is in danger. Since 2017, 33 right whales have been killed, while others have been seriously injured. Officials estimate the population is down under 400, and warn that the current death rate will cause extinction of the species if nothing is done.

None of those deaths have been linked to the Maine lobster industry, however. No entanglement has been attributed to a Maine lobster boat since 2004, when the whale survived.


At the same time, 21 of the 33 deaths have occurred in Canadian waters, including 10 of the 12 deaths caused by ship strikes.

That information doesn’t definitively exonerate Maine lobstermen in the deaths of right whales, but it certainly doesn’t implicate them enough to warrant changes that could so damage the industry.

The federal plan, which is aimed at reducing the number of lines in the water, would force fishermen to transition to rope-less fishing, a costly and new technology that fishermen say is still being worked out. It would hurt suppliers, and it would cause crowding in some longtime fishing spots.

The plan’s effect on the lobster industry gave Gov. Janet Mills “grave concern.” Maine’s congressional delegation said it could be the industry’s “death knell.” At a recent hearing, one lobsterman said that if the industry goes ropeless “90% of us will have to find something else to do.”

Whale advocates, however, say that it does not go far enough to stop the decline of the right whale.

And the U.S. plan, of course, does nothing to address deaths in Canadian waters, where the majority have occurred.

Without knowing more, then, about where the whales are and whether entanglements from Maine lobster boats are a driving force behind the deaths, then we don’t know enough to make the right decision. Whatever the truth, there’s a real possibility that fishing restrictions will end up seriously harming the lobster industry — and the Maine communities it supports — while not doing enough to save the right whale.

The NOAA is taking comment on the plan through March 1.

Our comment? Don’t pass a plan that puts the deaths of right whales on the backs of Maine lobstermen unless you can show that’s where it should be.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.