The Maine lobster industry needs a break.

Not only is the fishery being forced to change based on insufficient evidence regarding whale entanglements, it is being forced to do so on a schedule that is both too tight and poorly timed.

That has left lobstermen scrambling to meet the May 1 deadline for using special weakened rope — rope that is in short supply, if it can be found at all.

The Biden administration should see that the industry can’t make this deadline without causing harm. It should be extended to a more reasonable date.

Under the new rules, lobster boats must use new weakened rope, or special inserts that are designed to weaken the existing rope, depending on where they fish.

In addition, the rules call for placing more traps on each line in the water, as well as new requirements for marking rope with state-specific colors.

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The rules are designed to save the North Atlantic right whale, an endangered species that is vulnerable to ship strikes and rope entanglements, which have caused the population to dip below 400.

The whale deaths have also led the federal government to close a large area in the Gulf of Maine to lobstering for part of the year.

As we’ve written before, there is no strong evidence that the whale deaths can be pinned on Maine lobster boats. Far too little has been done to clarify where the problems have come from, and whether Canadian shipping vessels are the real problem.

The new rope rules could help shine a light on the matter. Not only will the new ropes break away if they become entangled around a whale, but the state-specific colors will help track where the boat came from.

But the May 1 deadline puts too much on individual lobstermen already dealing with a whole host of challenges, from climate change to the changing use of the ocean.

As the Bangor Daily News reported, just two companies have been approved to manufacture the specialty rope. One hasn’t typically sold their goods in Maine, while the other is still waiting on approval for certain colors. Lobstermen looking for the rope in supply stores have largely struck out.

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What’s more, the deadline comes at a time when lobstermen who fish in both federal and state waters still haven’t removed their traps from federal fishing areas. As the Mills administration has pointed out when trying to get an extension, the fishermen will have to pull their traps in early in order to replace the gear, losing out on valuable landings from March and April.

On top of that, they are required to use one color in federal waters after being told another must be used for state waters, forcing them to redo the work they already did replacing ropes.

It’s a lot to ask of any business, but particularly in an industry made up of 4,500 small businesses, all individual contractors who keep their operations running with little help, and little free time.

All indications are that most lobstermen are trying in good faith to comply. Regulators should recognize that work, as well as the realities of the industry, and give them a break.


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