Sometimes it’s a sign of a good compromise when people on both sides of an issue are unhappy.

But more often, universal dissatisfaction tells you that the deal is no good.

The National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration’s new North Atlantic right whale protection plan falls into the second category.

The rule would ban traditional lobster fishing in a 950-square-mile zone from Mt. Desert Island to eastern Casco Bay during the months of October through January. It has sparked rare agreement between lobstermen and environmentalists who say that the program is set up to fail because it would hurt the Maine lobster industry without saving whales.

Rather than push ahead with this plan, federal regulators should listen to the parties and try to come up with a plan that will work.

The rule is an attempt to protect endangered right whales, which are dying at an unsustainable rate.

Since 2017, 34 right whales have been killed, according to NOAA. With only about 368 right whales still alive, that reflects an almost 10 percent decline in their population in under five years.

What’s less clear is what further regulation of the Maine lobster industry would do to prevent it. An earlier estimate of 33 deaths attributed 21 to Canada and 12 to the United States.

Eleven incidents were attributed to ship strikes, including at least two in U.S. waters. None can be linked to the Maine lobster industry.

Many whales have scars indicating that they have been entangled with ropes like those that link lobster traps and buoys. Stress from entanglement could be reducing the whales’ birth rate, affecting the population without killing whales, but there is little evidence that the entanglements are happening in Maine. The most recent known Maine entanglement occurred in 2004.

The rule somehow manages to do too much and too little at the same time.

Instead of responding to specific risks, the rule closes more territory than necessary for longer than needed.

It doesn’t affect most lobstermen, who fish in state waters close to shore. But it would disrupt the fishery by displacing lobster boats, creating conflicts over territory in state waters.

Increasing the density of traps and lines near shore could create more opportunity for entanglements. At the same time the rule doesn’t address the leading cause of whale mortality – ship strikes.

The rule would allow “ropeless” fishing within the zone, a GPS system that would let boats electronically bring their traps to the surface instead of pulling the lines.

It’s a technology that could transform the fishery in the future, but it’s untested and experimental. Making it the only option available to affected boats asks a small number of people in a big industry to make a major sacrifice for an unclear goal.

The rule is the first step in what is expected to be a 10-year plan to nearly eliminate whale deaths for other than natural cause. That should raise concern about what’s coming next. What happens if the situation doesn’t improve?

It’s a good question when the strategy doesn’t address the main cause of whale deaths and seems unlikely to succeed. Would continued whale deaths be seen as proof that the rules aren’t working, or a justification to make them more strict?

NOAA’s proposal is opposed by Gov. Janet Mills and all four members of our congressional delegation, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden.

The regulators should listen to them and the other parties and come up with a whale protection plan that won’t sink an important industry, and will actually protect whales.


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