Lobster boats and gear populate wharves on Portland Harbor on Nov. 16, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A small plastic link designed to make lobstermen’s fishing lines weaker so they can comply with upcoming whale regulations has been recalled, according to state and lobster industry officials.

The weak link made by Plante’s Buoy Sticks was pulled off shelves by the company this week, taking away one of the handful of gear options at lobstermen’s disposal to meet new federal rules that go into effect May 1. One retailer said their shop was told the links were believed to be breaking too easily.

Plante’s links are one of three models approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be inserted into lobstermen’s fishing lines so the ropes snap with 1,700 pounds of force and allow right whales to break through them.

Depending on where they fish, lobstermen will need to use the links or weak ropes to comply with the new regulations aimed at protecting the endangered species. Lobstermen have said the new gear has been hard to get and have called on the implementation date to be pushed back.

Suppliers of Plante’s links got a call from the company this week asking them to stop selling the links and take back any that had already sold, said Chris Betts, a sales clerk at New England Marine and Industrial in Stonington.

“They told us ‘Don’t sell anymore because we’ve had a problem with them,’” he said. “I guess they’re too weak.”

Plante’s did not respond to a request for comment, but Department of Marine Resources spokesperson Jeff Nichols and Maine Lobstermen’s Association executive director Patrice McCarron both confirmed the recall. Neither knew the cause.

A NOAA spokesperson said the agency did not initiate the recall.

Betts’ store got about 3,000 links last week and he estimated they had sold about 2,000 of them before the recall. Most fishermen have returned the links but he guessed that some had already installed them in their fishing lines.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Betts said.

Virginia Olsen, a leader in the Maine Lobstering Union, said she sent a notice to her members about the issue and hoped the recall would prompt NOAA to review allowing fishermen the easier option of putting knots in their ropes to make them weaker.

“It truly would be a great assistance to us if those knots were acceptable,” she said. “It would be so much easier in the given time frame.”