NOAA team recommends reducing lobstering gear to save right whales

Published on
April 30, 2019

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team has recommended that the amount of vertical trap lines used by the lobster industry should be reduced by half in order to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale. 

The recommendation comes after the latest meeting of the team, which ended on 26 April. The team – which was formed in 1996 and is made up of fishermen, scientists, conservationists, and state and federal officials – has been examining how to reduce right whale entanglements after multiple instances of entanglement-related deaths. 

According to a story by the Associated Press, the team is recommending that the lobster industry needs to reduce the number of vertical lines by up to 50 percent in some areas, and has also recommended using lines that can break more easily. 

While the reduction in lines may not necessarily mean a reduction in traps, as a single vertical line can be used for multiple traps, what the changes could mean for the lobster fishery is still unknown as the team has only made a recommendation, and an approval process is still to come. 

In Maine, impacts to the lobster industry can translate to big impacts to the state’s economy. The Maine lobster fishery, which lands tens of thousands of metric tons of lobster each year, was worth USD 484 million (EUR 431.5 million) in 2018.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, which represents 1,200 members in the industry, criticized the timing of some of the information given out before the take reduction team meeting. A letter, sent by MLA Executive Director Patrice McCarron to the National Marine Fisheries Service, criticized the short timeline much of the information was released in. 

“The MLA is deeply disturbed by the timing of NMFS’s release of new information to guide discussions at this week’s TRT meeting,” McCarron – who also sits on the take reduction team – wrote in a letter dated 22 April.  “Our last TRT meeting was six months ago. NMFS only announced the Take Reduction Target and presented a draft of the Decision Support Tool in recent days.”

The NMFS and presented its “Decision Support Tool” on 16 April, just a week before the meeting. 

Despite the criticism, McCarron wrote that the association remains committed to reducing the impact on right whales, and urges that fishermen be kept involved with the discussions. 

“It is crucially important that those who will be affected by the results of the TRT process are in full support of the methodology and tools used in that process,” McCarron wrote. “In the meantime, the MLA will continue to offer constructive feedback and engage our fishermen on the progress of the TRT.”  

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