Why Whales Are Worrying Lobstermen in Maine

By John Kamp.

Along the rocky coast of Maine, lobstermen are worried new federal requirements to clear fishing lines from the path of endangered whales will damage their iconic New England industry.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agency is trying to save North Atlantic right whales that are dying at an alarming rate in U.S. and Canadian waters, often after getting tangled in fishing gear or hit by ships. The still-forming federal regulations will cover other parts of New England, but Maine, where lobstermen dangle more than 800,000 lines from buoys to ocean-floor traps in their busiest months, has the most at stake.

Meeting an aggressive federal target for reducing whale hazards could mean pulling half those lines from the water. The state’s lobster industry and political leaders say this is untenable for the armada of mostly small lobster boats fishing the Gulf of Maine. It also misses the target, they say, since most dead whales have recently turned up in Canada, and none in Maine.

“We’re not unwilling to adapt, we just want to adapt in a way that will actually benefit the species,” said Chris Welch, a 31-year-old lobsterman from Kennebunk, Maine, regarding the whales. “We don’t want to go extinct, either.”

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