At the beginning of the year, Maine lobstermen were having a hard time finding the new gear that is being required to help protect right whales. Though suppliers are now starting to see these new weak ropes and links come in, they haven’t received a flurry of new orders despite the looming spring implementation date.
Starting on May 1, lobstermen, depending on where they fish, will have to have ropes running from their buoys to traps that can break with 1,700 pounds of force, or have inserts in the line that allow it to snap easier should a whale ever get entangled in them.
But some say that date is just too soon to change gear.
The lobster industry, backed by state officials, has pushed back against the rules. Gov. Janet Mills, the Maine congressional delegation and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association have all called on federal regulators to delay the deadline until July to give lobstermen more time to get in line.
Still, the gear is becoming available.
Ketcham Supply Co., one of the dealers of the breakaway ropes, now has hundreds of coils of approved weak lines in stock and the plastic links that seem to be favored by Maine fishermen came in just over a week ago.
“The supply is here now, so I’m waiting and hoping they come and take it all,” said Heather Ketcham, the owner of the New Bedford, Massachusetts-based business.
The company bought lots of inventory on speculation so it could be immediately available for lobstermen. But orders haven’t started rolling in just yet and Ketcham worries there might be a mad rush just before the deadline.
“I think I’m as ready as I can be for them,” she said. “I’m hoping they come now rather than later.”
Federal regulators have been keeping a list of approved weak ropes and weak inserts and several options are now available to order. Still, there are some manufacturing issues that could slow down compliance.
Brooks Trap Mill has some links in stock, but owner Stephen Brooks said Maine Mold and Machine, which produces them, is having trouble getting enough materials to make more.
“They can produce a lot of links, probably over 20,000 a day if they have the material,” Brooks said.
Maine Department of Marine Resources spokesperson Jeff Nichols said the department is encouraged that Brooks Trap Mill’s link has been approved, but fishermen continue to tell DMR that a lack of supply will challenge their ability to comply with the May 1 implementation date.
DMR plans to purchase 100 coils of weak rope from Ketcham, pre-order 8,500 weak links from Brooks, and, if federally approved, 100 additional coils of weak rope made by Everson Cordage Works. These ropes and weak links will be distributed to fishermen for free for testing purposes but are not intended to outfit a lobstermen’s entire gear or supplement the cost of changing gear to meet the regulations.
Stonington lobsterman Richard Larrabee Jr. said he’s ordered links — which could be arriving in the next few weeks — as well as pre-ordered some of the Everson Cordage rope so he could try out different configurations.
Despite more products becoming available, he predicted there would not be widespread compliance by May. It’s hard for offshore fishermen like him to find the time to make changes to their gear setup, he said.
“I’m going to make an effort,” he said “That’s what I can do.”