Nonprofit launches “Is your lobster whale-safe?” campaign

Published on
August 3, 2021
A billboard asking passing drivers "Is your lobster whale-safe?"

Nonprofit organization Mainers Guarding Right Whales has launched a campaign featuring advertisements and a billboard that asks “Is your lobster whale-safe?”

The billboard is located along roadways in the U.S. state of Massachusetts and is targeted at travelers heading into the nearby state of Maine (billboards along roadways are banned in Maine). The billboard, according to the organization, is intended to inform travelers that “lobster dinners at seaside harbors come at a steep price to North Atlantic right whales.”

"We believe if we can educate and inform travelers about the near extinction of right whales and the cause they will take action and help protect the whales," Mainers Guarding Right Whales Founder and Executive Director Barbara Skapa said in a release.

The billboard also prompts travelers to Maine to learn more about the plight of the North Atlantic right whale, which is one of the most highly endangered species on the planet. Scientific estimates place the number left in the wild at around 350 individuals. A recent poll by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that the majority of residents on the U.S. East Coast support additional protections for right whales.

The U.S. lobster fishery has been caught up in the ongoing efforts to protect the whales in the wake of multiple whale deaths attributed to entanglement in fishing gear. A ruling by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in 2020 found that the fishery was in violation of the Endangered Species Act, and ordered federal regulators to create new rules to protect the species.

NOAA proposed new rules in January, but those rules were met with strong opposition, and Maine Governor Janet Mills outlined “grave concern” over the draft.

Assessments of the fishery by the federal government have called for new efforts to protect the whales, including changes in gear types and the potential use of “ropeless” fishing technology. Mainers Guarding Right Whales hopes greater awareness and consumer action will help push the changes forward.

"The fishing industry in Maine has a long history of adapting to change in the face of new challenges, and we believe with the right support it will do just that,” Skapa said. “The biggest challenge is that ropeless technology is costly and requires sustained governmental subsidization to equip Maine's lobster fisheries."  

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said that the billboard amounts to a "PR stunt" that "ignores the longstanding committment of Maine's lobster industry to the protection of right whales and oversimplifies the complex challenge of transitioning ropeless fishing technology from the testing phase to commercial scale operation." 

"As I’ve said before, ropeless fishing technology is not currently a viable option," he said. "The technology must be further developed to ensure that all fixed and mobile gear fleets can locate ropeless lobster gear to avoid conflict and lost gear. Enforcement of fisheries with ropeless gear is also a hurdle, with many unanswered questions. Marine Patrol will need to be equipped with technology to locate, retrieve, and set back gear, an enforcement action which is critical to the management of this valuable resource. DMR will be engaged in efforts to examine this technology and to ensure that these problems are fully addressed."

Image courtesy of Mainers Guarding Right Whales

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