There is no reason to take lobster off the menu. There is every reason to serve it up with a “whale-safe” sticker.

Sea Watch’s red-listing got lots of attention. Less is paid to what it and others are pushing: namely, ropeless fishing technology. This could eliminate the half million vertical ropes that tie lobster traps to the surface and entangle all whales that navigate our waters.

In the decade 2009-2018, about 76 whales a year were entangled, according to biologist Bill McWeeny of the Maine Coalition for North Atlantic Right Whales: 264 humpbacks, 62 fins, 89 right whales and 267 minkes. Turtles, too.

By lieu of our ecology, the Maine lobster fishery fishes 87 percent of all traps. The remainder are Canadian- and Massachusetts-operated. More than 80 percent of right whales bear scars from entanglements – and 60 percent of them more than once. Blaming much smaller fisheries for whale entanglements defies logic.

A “whale-safe” sticker, similar to “dolphin-free” tuna can labels, means lobster is caught in a whale-safe manner: All whales.

So does ropeless technology work? Yes, it does. Australia uses it. Is it affordable? Not yet, but it can be with a government mandate that offers a carrot-and-stick approach to technological change. Right now, managerial inertia, regulatory impasses and politics are stumbling blocks to protecting whales and our fishery.

The lobster industry in Maine has powerful friends, but so do the whales. It is time for the industry to stop painting itself into a corner and plan for the future.

Next time you crave lobster, ask “Is this lobster whale-safe?”

Barbara Skapa
executive director, Mainers Guarding Right Whales
Mount Vernon

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.

filed under: