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Lobsters, Whales, and Regulations: Finding a Balance

By Edge Venuti | Rural Youth Organizer: Washington County

Image: Cutler, Maine a town where lots of people rely on fishing for income

There is a delicate and debatable issue surrounding the shores of Maine. For decades, lobster folk have fished for their families, gathering haul after haul from before the sun touches the sky. Sudden restrictions from outside forces have forced them to defend their way of life. As a young person who deeply cares about the environment and the conservation of the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it, this particular issue troubled me.

The population decline of the North Atlantic Right Whales is severe. There have been several unusual mortality events since 2010 that have lowered their numbers even more. One of the biggest contributors to these whale deaths is “entanglement in commercial fishing gear.” Upon hearing that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had set in place new fishing regulations (listed below)...

“Reducing the number of buoy lines (lines that link the fisherman’s floating surface buoy to the pot or trap) in the water; Weakening the remaining lines so that whales can break free before becoming seriously injured; and improving how fishing gear is marked so NOAA Fisheries and partners can better identify the type of fishing gear associated with entanglements when they do occur, thereby informing future risk reduction measures.”

...I was pleased and knew it would benefit these whales. However, knowing many of my peers and people I know are affected by these regulations put in place, I realized that this wasn’t a complete solution.

On top of the NOAA regulations, the large grocery company Whole Foods flagged the lobster as “do not buy.” These regulations caused many setbacks to the daily routines of lobster folk across Maine. The biggest issue faced was the loss of income, and many lobstering families suffered.

Image: NOAA

To further educate myself and to truly understand the gravity of the situation, I took the time to interview two students (who will remain anonymous) that attend my high school, Washington Academy. They are lobstermen themselves, and it is in their blood. One of their grandfathers has been fishing for nearly 50 years, and now they carry on that tradition. Lobstering brings in their income and prepares them for later life when they hope to work in welding or with four-wheelers. They explained to me that the regulations put in place by NOAA and Whole Foods have deeply upset them and their fellow lobster folk. They felt as though the regulations were an attack on their livelihoods and that they just wanted to be able to support their families and had no intention of harming whales.

They asked that people take the time to learn the other side of the story and how real people are being affected by strangers making decisions. As these restrictions have affected their income, they asked that people who are willing and able to donate to the Maine Lobster Association do so, as it will help their efforts.

There is not always a right side to every story. People may see things in black and white, but when you actually take the time to learn about both sides, you can see how situations become very complicated. Of course, I still want the whales and all other marine life to be protected. They too deserve to live safe and healthy lives. However, placing restrictions without fair input from ordinary folk who rely on fishing to survive is an unfair way to carry out what seems to be a solution at first glance. I am sure that with more research and conversation, there could be a compromise, either with funds or better-placed regulations to keep the waters of Maine a safe and healthy environment for everyone involved.


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