The lobstermen say they want to get involved because they believe federal actions like this could directly impact their livelihoods.
WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Editor’s note: The above video aired on Dec. 9.
Maine lobstermen have a new ally in the fight against federal fishing regulations.
The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association filed a motion to join the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s lawsuit, challenging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 10-year right whale protection plan. The plan requires lobstermen to make significant changes to prevent whales from getting tangled in their gear.
The group filed the motion in Washington D.C. District Court, looking to join the lawsuit as a third party.
Massachusetts lobstermen said they want to get involved because they believe federal actions like this could directly impact their livelihoods.
The court still needs to approve the motion.
Some, including Maine’s lobster unions, have claimed the closure by NOAA falls during the peak fishing season.
According to data from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, lobstermen statewide hauled most consistently from July to October last year. They brought in a whopping 20 million pounds in October at peak, before numbers steadily fell back down through January.
DMR officials estimate the closure will have a $2 to $4 million impact on fishermen alone.
RELATED: As the legal battle continues, lobstermen fear new federal closure could hurt industry long-term
According to NOAA, fewer than 360 North Atlantic right whales remain on the planet.
NOAA scientists said the biggest threats to the North Atlantic right whales are ship strikes and entanglements.
According to experts, right whales swim into lines connected the buoy to the lobster traps on the ocean floor. The animal can spin into the traps and sometimes drag the gear for miles.
They say it causes serious injury and even death in many cases.
“Getting gear out of important whale habitat will save whales and help promote the recovery of this incredibly imperiled species,” Kristen Monsell, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said.
Most lobstermen opposed to the restrictions question just how many right whales are even off Maine’s coast.
NOAA said tracking them isn’t easy. However, maps showing sightings by air and water from 2013 to 2017 show many of them off the coast of Massachusetts and New Brunswick, while fewer appear to be directly in the Gulf of Maine, where the closure zone is.
When asked how many entanglements happen because of Maine-based lobster gear, Monsell said it isn’t clear.
“We don’t know where the vast majority of entanglements occur, and that’s for a number of different reasons,” she said. “What we do know is these whales are dying. The species is spiraling towards extinction, entanglements are the number one cause, and there are tons and tons of lines in these important habitat areas.”
A spokesperson for NOAA declined NEWS CENTER Maine’s request for an interview earlier this month, citing ongoing litigation.
However, they released written statements concerning how they determined the closure zone.
“Because we lack information on exactly where interactions occur, we use areas of high co-occurrence of right whales and fishing gear as a …….