Local Politics

NOAA’s Fight to Save Endangered Right Whales and Maine’s Lobstermen Fight to Save the Lobster Industry

The Maine lobster association has recently filed a lawsuit against the NOAA regarding the new lobster fishing regulations to protect right whales. This has made lobstermen
frustrated and fighting back.

Photo caption: The Maine lobster association has recently filed a lawsuit against the NOAA regarding the new lobster fishing regulations to protect right whales. This has made the lobstermen frustrated and now they’re fighting back. To the left stands Captain Satch, next to him is Captain Nick Boudreau, second to last Captain Dennis McMahon and last on the right is Captain Mike Johnson. All four men have been in the lobster fishing industry for over 10 years.

By Contributing Writer Samantha M. Strandberg

October 2021 PORTLAND – Maine lobstermen say they’re fighting for their livelihoods after recent restrictions were made to their fishery. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association filed a lawsuit last month over the federal government’s new rules aimed at protecting endangered right whales.

NOAA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and Maine lobstermen have been in an ongoing battle in an effort to protect the endangered right whales. The latest regulations include new standards that reduce the number of rope lines that link buoys to lobster traps that can be in the water. The administration argues that with all the fishing gear in the ocean, it is a high danger to the right whales, therefore enforcing new regulations and fishing standards. But lobstermen say the new regulations would only make the industry more challenging.

Allison Ferreira, the communications supervisor for the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries office, couldn’t speak about the lawsuit but did say the regulations are in the best interest of the endangered whales.

“Declining at a faster rate than in 2017, the right whale species has been declared critically endangered,” Ferreira said. 

She said the dramatic decline is mainly because of fishing line entanglement and vessel strikes with the large whales, while 85 percent of right whale fatalities are caused by entanglements. Ferreira said NOAA, the Maine Lobster Association and other large lobster groups have worked together to come up with new and improved regulations to help make the waters safer for the endangered species.

But recently, The Maine lobster Association and other lobster groups have shown their frustrations regarding the situation, resulting in a lawsuit against the NOAA, challenging the new regulations to protect right whales.

“We have always worked with the states. This includes lobstermen and large fishing groups in Maine. We have always worked together on this issue. Maine feels like they are being picked on,” Ferreira said. “There is also a loss of revenue due to the new regulations set in place.

Starting October 18, a new Maine regulation will decrease vertical lines to 50 percent. This also enhances the need for lobstermen and their companies to mark their traps for a better understanding of what and where the whales are getting entangled and why.

I spoke with Captain Satch regarding the ongoing Lobster issue. Mr. Satch has been in the lobster industry for 26 years and is the Captain and owner of Captain Satch and Son’s located in Wells Maine. Captain Satch is not only the Captain of his lobster boat but also a father to Dennis McMahon. Alongside Captain Satch and Captain Dennis Mchahon is Captain Nick Boudreau. All three Captains have worked together for many years and have seen the revolution of the lobster industry together.

“There has always been an ongoing issue when it comes to Maine fishery industry, especially ocean fishing”, stated Captain Satch. “This isn’t a new thing”.

In Captain Satch’s early lobster career he remembers times being easier in the lobster and fishing industry and as time goes on, it only gets harder. Captain Mike Johnson, a fellow lobsterman of 12 years and family friend states the same.

“The rules and regulations only get stricter”, states Captain Johnson. “Since the 60’s and 70’s, lobstermen have always followed the rules and regulations by taking additional steps to protect wildlife and fish, it just gets stricter no matter what”.

Both Captain Satch and Captain Johnson state they have rarely seen right whales and have always followed laws and regulations of lobster fishing and have good intentions to protect endangered species.

“Lobster fishing is hard. This isn’t just a job, its large families and their businesses. It’s not easy money, it’s hard work. When it comes to the new regulations, I don’t think these large offshore lobstermen companies are going to follow them. They will go against them”, states Cpt. Satch.

The offshore lobster fishing is most affected by the new regulations. There are a handful of differences between inshore and offshore lobster fishing, including what kind of licensing is needed for each type. With every new regulation, lobstermen have been participating and working with the federal agency. This new regulation has taken a toll on lobster companiesand their lobstermen.

Not only do the new regulations affect lobstermen and their work but also the consumer. With the vertical lines being cut by 50 percent, this means less lobster are going to be caught.

“Instead of paying 5 dollars per pound for lobster, you are now paying 12 dollars per pound and it will keep increasing. Fishing gear and supplies have even increased for lobstermen. For a barrel of bait you now pay 240 dollars when you used to pay 20 dollars for the same amount”, Captain Mike Johnson explains.

I spoke with Amy Haselton, a local from Shapleigh Maine. “Before we were paying $5.99 for lobster and now the price is $12.99. We used to buy it often to eat for dinner but we don’t as much now due to the increase in price. It’s the same when you go to a restaurant. It’s hard to enjoy a lobster dinner because it’s so expensive”, Ms. Haselton explains.

As more regulations are being made, it not only makes fishing alone more difficult for lobstermen buying supplies and supporting the job. Rates of not only lobster but gear, supplies, boating equipment and licensing have increased dramatically. With both sides trying to save endangered right whales and also continue lobster fishing, there are frustrations for both NOAA and the Maine lobster industry.

“It’s very hard when new regulations are enforced like this. It’s hard especially for large lobster families and all the work that is put into it”, stated Cpt. Satch. “I want to make sure that everyone knows we care about the environment and like the whales very much. We just want to see the right thing be done and not just enforce new regulations on the fishing industry”.

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