Endangered Species Act Whales Industry

A North Atlantic right whale surfaces on Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts on March 27. The protected species has been at the center of a longtime dispute between federal regulators and commercial fishing and shipping industries. Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press

Jason Lord, a second-generation Midcoast lobsterman, said he understands the effort to save critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The problem, he contends, is lawmakers, government agencies and conservation groups have it wrong by targeting the Maine lobster industry, which has been forced to use breakaway trap lines and observe a seasonal no-fishing zone to protect the whales.

Jason Lord, a Midcoast lobsterman with 30 years in the industry, said more regulations against the Maine lobster industry to protect right whales are unnecessary. Courtesy of Jason Lord

“I’ve never seen a right whale off the coast of Maine,” said Lord, 50, who has been in the industry for 30 years.

An Arizona congressman recently proposed a bill that could lead to further regulations like ropeless lobster traps. Last week, Maine Lobstering Union Local 207 Executive Liaison and Political Director Virginia Olsen testified against the bill on Capitol Hill.

“As Maine fishermen, we have repeatedly stepped up and done whatever was required of us to protect right whales,” Olsen told lawmakers. “Regulations only benefit the whale when the whales are present, and where there are no whales there is no justification for the regulation. Unnecessary regulations only erode public confidence in the Endangered Species Act without any benefit to the endangered species itself.”

There are only about 340 North Atlantic right whales left and one of their biggest threats is entanglement in fishing lines, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So far this year, entangled whales have been spotted off the coasts of Massachusetts, North Carolina and Georgia, according to the administration.


The last time a right whale was entangled in Maine lobster gear was in 2004, and no right whale deaths have ever been attributed to Maine lobster gear, according to Maine’s congressional delegation, which in December secured a six-year delay of additional regulations that could force the Maine lobster industry to use ropeless lobster traps.

In February, Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat and member of the House Natural Resources Committee, proposed the RESCUE Whales Act, which would repeal the six-year delay. In a statement, Grijalva said the delay “poses an existential threat to the dwindling North Atlantic right whale population.”

He added, “It undermines the science-based protections of both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, while also ignoring real solutions like ropeless gear.”

Lord, who is based out of New Harbor, said ropeless lobster traps aren’t advanced enough yet to be practical.

“Do we need to put more battery-operated garbage in the ocean?” he asked. “They keep moving the hoops and making the hoops smaller and making us jump through them. … Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Enough is enough.'”

Olsen told lawmakers, “Rushing NOAA to implement new rules without additional research and fixing a broken system does nothing to protect right whales. Instead, it does everything to endanger a heritage fishery that not only my family but thousands of others have participated in for generations.”

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