Federal regulators issued new rules Tuesday for lobster and other trap-pot fisheries that aim to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales from harmful entanglements with fishing gear. The lobster industry and its political allies in Maine are condemning the decision, but conservationists say it doesn’t do enough to protect the whales.
Among several significant measures, the new rule includes the seasonal closure of some 967 square miles of fishing grounds in federal waters about 30 miles off Maine’s midcoast, from October through January. It’s an area used by boats based at ports from Mount Desert Island to Rockland to Boothbay.
State Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham is a Winter Harbor lobsterman. Reached by phone while hauling his traps, Faulkingham acknowledges that most of Maine’s lobster fleet will not be affected by the new rule because they fish relatively near shore, where federal scientists say whales are unlikely to swim.
But, he notes, the big trawlers working farther out account for about half the value of Maine’s lobster landings. And Faulkingham says he is shocked that the feds would impose an annual harvest ban during the prime late fall to early winter season.