The Maine Lobstermen’s Association has stepped up an advocacy campaign to “Save Maine Lobstermen.” They and their political allies claim that new regulations to make fishing gear safer for right whales will put the lobster fishery out of business.

Where is the evidence? Massachusetts and Canadian lobster fisheries are already investing in changes that the Maine Lobstermen’s Association claims are impossible. Indeed, Canada has invested $20 million to transition its trap fisheries to whale-safe gear by 2023. Digging in for a fight means that Maine lobstermen fall behind the competition.

Instead, Maine leaders could legitimize lobster’s sustainability rating by aggressively testing and deploying on-demand fishing technology, and transitioning to whale-safe end-lines. Rather than making false claims denying entanglement responsibility, they could decouple the need to make these changes from the cost of making them. We can and should demand federal and state funds (as well as private investment) to support whale-safe fishing. We can and should be doing everything in our power to prevent the extinction of right whales, and it can be done without the loss of one of the most lucrative fisheries in the country.

If whale-safe gear rules magically disappeared, it would not “save” Maine fishermen. Fighting regulation today won’t prepare fishermen for tomorrow’s greatest threat: climate change. Reroute legal and marketing funds to what will really save Maine fishermen: looking ahead to the next viable fisheries; investing in fishing community resilience, and supporting fishing technologies that allow fishermen to continue to fish without harm to vulnerable populations of marine life.

Brenna Sowder

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