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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Right Whales, Fishermen, Ship Collisions. . .

Fishermen in Maine and elsewhere are under fire from environmental legislation aimed at protecting the endangered right whale. Biologists say ground lines connecting strings of lobster traps are responsible for fatal whale entanglements. Authorities have the power to institute changes to correct this situation and what they've come up with is a ban on float rope and floating gear (toggles) on ground lines. Instead, lobster fishermen are now required to use a special rope that sinks and is designed to fall apart or break if encountered by a whale.

As you can imagine, this is not a happy development for lobstermen, who have been struggling with lower prices for their catch amidst higher prices for bait, fuel, and supplies. The price of diesel fuel has more than doubled in less than a year. And now they're looking at spending thousands, if not tens of thousands, for the new rope, in which they have little faith; plus they have to temporarily suspend their source of revenue in order to re-rig everything.

While I applaud man's efforts to protect the earth and all its creatures, in this case, as it pertains to right whales, there's clearly a disproportionate level of responsibility and sacrifice being apportioned to lobstermen in Maine. Let me explain:

According to statistics, ship traffic accounts for the majority of deaths of right whales (32 that we know of since 1986), and yet the majority of merchantmen are being 'asked" to slow down in known right whale habitats. Only LNG carriers, as part of their federal license, are required by law to slow down to 10 knots in known right whale areas. Why is the brunt of the sacrifice being levied on the commercial fishing industry and in particular the lobster fishery?

[Note#: Even though entanglements haven't caused as many right whale mortalities, statistics between 1997 and 2003 indicate entanglements in lobster and other fish gear have caused 36 total whale deaths in Maine waters.]

To add insult to injury, the news today (AP Story here) reports an effort by marine biologists to help merchant shipping negotiate whale grounds in a faster, more cost-efficient manner. Instead of telling them to slow down all the time in areas suspected of hosting right whales, biologists will tell ships to slow down 'only' when right whale communications are heard in the area. How will they accomplish this? By using sophisticated, computer listening devices attached to buoys. The listening devices will be programmed to pick-up right whale communications.

One has to wonder why the biologists, environmentalists and legislators are willing to step outside of the box for the merchant fleet but not the commercial fishing industry. I think I have an answer.

1. When whale entanglement and whale protection became an issue a few years ago, Maine fishermen circled their wagons/boats and assumed a collective sumo stance. They were unwilling to talk of compromise. Now it's too late.

2. The perception is that merchant shipping benefits everyone while the lobster fishing industry benefits only people who can afford to eat lobster.

3. Shows like Deadliest Catch don't help matters by depicting not-so-fuzzy fishermen making huge amounts of money while throwing garbage, refuse and an old F-150 Pickup into the ocean.

4. Although I don't know for sure, I'm betting the merchant shipping industry spent a lot of money on research to reduce whale mortalities and improve methods of locating whales during breeding and feeding cycles. I'm also betting the fishing industry spent a total of 'zero' dollars on same.


PS. Check out Joe's Blog Freaks of the Lobster and Crab World, Life on the Gloucester, MA Docks.


Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying your blog, especially the entry about the ugly lobster boat that you thought could possibly be an April Fools Joke. my name is Joe and I co-own a lobster company in Gloucester Ma. I do a blog about life on the docks if you are interested.
You may dig my photo essay on lobster and crab mutations found here-

Anyway, keep up the great work here!

seabgb said...

Thanks. Same to you. Hope the fishing is doing better your way than it is up here. It's a slow start to the season, and we have a lot of run-off. The water in the bay is almost orange colored. Meanwhile, yesterday I talked to a guy who's been lobstering his whole life. He said he's taking truck driving lessons to have something to fall back on.