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In the May 15 column, “Need for legal defense fund spotlights failures of federal lobster management,” the author claims Maine’s lobster legal defense fund is because of NOAA’s failure to solicit input from lobstermen in its latest attempt to protect right whales, and that Maine lobstermen are being unfairly targeted. This is incorrect. Since the 1990s, Maine fishermen have participated in NOAA’s Take Reduction Team meetings to prevent entanglement-related whale deaths, working alongside regulators, NGOs, and scientists. Public feedback was gathered throughout the recent rule-making process, and the resulting regulations absolutely included input from fishermen.
Maine fishermen have historically been partners in protecting right whales, and it is vital to acknowledge that no fishermen wants to cause unintentional harm. Sadly, there is still work to be done to make fishing gear safer for whales. Meanwhile, Maine’s lobster fishing leadership has gone on the defensive, saying it’s unfair to ask fishermen to do more without evidence of impact. Analysis of more than 1,700 right whale entanglements connects fewer than 25 cases to a fishery and location. How can the Maine lobster fishery be certain they bear no responsibility for right whale entanglements or deaths if evidence is only available for 1.4 percent of known cases?
A legal fund is a message from leadership that signals a failed partnership that goes both ways. NOAA’s legal mandate must protect right whales, but it can only be done effectively if fishermen are willing to be a part of the solution.