Right Whales and Maine Lobster

Maine Lobstermen Working to Protect Right Whales

Maine lobstermen have, for over 20 years, evolved their gear and the way they fish to help protect right whales from entanglement. The industry takes their responsibility as stewards of the ocean seriously, and have proactively taken steps to both remove rope from the water and make it easier for entangled whales to break free of gear. As a result, there has only been one confirmed right whale entanglement in Maine lobster gear which occurred in 2002 with no known serious injuries or mortalities attributable to that gear.

Maine Lobstermen and Right Whales:
The Facts

  • Sustainability has been at the heart of the Maine Lobster industry since its very inception, and our fishermen continue to adhere to existing whale protection rules. Our stakeholders are avid participants in conversations concerning the new whale measures, however any changes to the fishery need to be backed by sound science and in line with the Maine fishery’s impact on whales.
  • Since the 1990s, the Maine Lobster industry has taken steps to protect whales, including to eliminating all surface float rope, minimizing line knots, and introducing breakable links that help a whale break free from a rope should it become entangled. Over the years we’ve continued to refine and tweak these rules to further enhance the protection of whales. Since 2000, Maine Lobster fishermen have been marking our rope to make it easier for gear to be identified, and have implemented a minimum number of traps per line.
  • Due in part to these efforts, only one confirmed right whale entanglement and zero confirmed serious injuries or mortalities have been linked to the Maine Lobster industry dating back to 2002. While there are many entanglements and deaths that cannot be traced, NOAA has decided to assign unconfirmed mortalities to US Fisheries, which fails to address the actual causes of whale mortality. Analysis of those deaths that can be determined show that Maine Lobster fishing plays a minimal role in entanglements.
  • Right whale distribution and feeding patterns have changed. More than half of the population are now regularly sighted feeding in Massachusetts waters in and around Cape Cod Bay and further north into the Gulf of Lawrence. The number of right whales detected along the Maine coast has declined, according to NOAA’s own sightings map, as the whales chase their food source that has moved away from the traditional habitat in the Gulf of Maine.
  • US trap/pot gear only makes up 4% of the risk to right whales, according to NMFS’s own data. Asking all Maine lobstermen to remove 50 percent of their rope from the water is simply not a proportionate response to the share of entanglement risk posed by the fishery.
  • The near inshore fishery is exempted from some regulations because NOAA determined that these areas were not part of the habitat of right whales.

A Longstanding Commitment to Right Whale Safety

  • 1997

    All surface float rope removed

    Weak links implemented

  • 2000

    Began marking vertical lines to identify origin of gear

  • 2009

    Replaced 27,000 miles of floating ground line with whale-safe sinking line

  • 2014

    Removed 2,740 miles of buoy line by establishing minimum traps per buoy line

A Longstanding Commitment to Right Whale Safety

1997

1997

All surface float rope removed

Weak links implemented

2000

2000

Began marking vertical lines to identify origin of gear

2009

2009

Replaced 27,000 miles of floating ground line with whale-safe sinking line

2014

2014

Removed 2,740 miles of buoy line by establishing minimum traps per buoy line

Maine lobstermen have been practicing sustainability measures for over 150 years. This means protecting the health of the lobster stock, and also treating the entire marine environment with respect and care. The industry recognizes the precarious situation of the North Atlantic right whale, and since the 1990s fishermen have been taking proactive steps to ensure the fishery and the whales can co-exist.

The lobster industry is Maine’s economic engine, sustaining not only the men and women who fish but entire communities. Fishermen are willing to make changes to protect whales and have been active participants in the ongoing discussions, but there are legitimate questions about how much Maine’s lobster industry is to blame for the decline in the right whale population. The regulations currently under development by the federal government would ask lobstermen to take 50 percent of their rope out of the water, having a tremendous impact on both the safety of fishermen and their ability to do business. Before regulations are implemented, lobstermen deserve to know that these measures will positively impact right whales and are backed by sound science.

The Maine Lobster industry will continue to be a part of the conversations to ensure the health of the fishery and environment that it operates within.

In the News

Maine Voices

Read the letter from Maine’s Congressional delegation

via Congressman Golden’s Office

maine-congressional-delegation_ltr-to-noaa-alwtr-scoping_091719
Read the statement from Govenor Janet T. Mills

via the Office of the Governor Janet T. Mills

Mills Administration Calls on NOAA to Focus on True Risk to Right Whales

Fishermen’s Perspective

Sustainable Fishing Practices

The Maine Lobster industry has a long history of
protecting the oceans and our fishery.

Maine’s fishery at work

This page is brought to you by the Maine Lobster Industry, a collaboration between:
Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association,
the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, and the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative