Although there hasn’t been a documented right whale in Maine lobstermen’s gear in recent years, most entanglements are undocumented and the gear’s origin is usually unknown. (For brevity, “whales” is in reference to right whales.)

Canadian snow crab gear is a major threat, and the risk of vessel strikes is high, but that doesn’t absolve the lobster fishery. We typically don’t know how, when  or where whales die, but we do know that the lobster fishery likely plays a critical role. Politicians and lobstermen repeatedly claim that “no right whale has gotten entangled in a Maine lobstermen’s gear for 18 years and there are no recorded cases of the gear leading to the death of a right whale.” This is very misleading.

From 2009 to 2018, an average of five whales were seriously injured or killed by all fishing gear per year; 4 percent could be definitively linked to U.S. fisheries, 14 percent to Canadian fisheries and 82 percent were of unknown origin.

86.1 percent of whales show signs of entanglement, and 59 percent of whales were entangled more than once.

• Scientists only find 36 percent of dead whales, which is at least partially explained by the tendency for entangled whales to sink when they die. The actual death rate from all causes is 2.8 times higher than what is observed.

• Entangled whales don’t die immediately; fishing gear ensnares their mouths, which limits their ability to feed and reproduce.

• Lobster and Jonah crab gear accounts for 93 percent of the vertical lines within whale habitat in U.S. waters.

Gabe Andrews
former research consultant, Seafood Watch
Westbrook

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