These days, we think of other people when we think about killing whales. Japanese whale hunts disguised as science, or Iceland and Norway resisting international management. But lobster fishing kills whales right here at home, despite more than a decade of work to protect whales. If you buy lobster, you own a piece of this problem.
Lobsters are caught with traps, and ropes are used to hold and retreive the traps (see diagram at left). Where lobster fishing is good, there are a lot of traps on the bottom and a spider web of ropes that float up in the water creating a potential trap for whales.
How bad is the risk to whales from catching lobsters? Entanglement scars have been found on 75% of critically endangered right whales, most probably caused by lobster fishing. Some of those whales die from drowning, while some escape with injuries caused by thrashing around in the ropes.
Lobstering isn’t the only thing that kills whales. Other fishing gear like gillnets can also catch and kill whales, and large ships can kill by running over whales. So why focus on Maine lobster?
The proud Maine lobster industry wants to fetch a higher price for their catch by promoting Maine lobster as sustainable. I have a problem with calling Maine lobster sustainable if catching lobster means also catching whales.
I believe lobstermen when they say they don’t want to kill whales, but they could do more to save whales. Lobstermen are fighting a new federal regulation designed to protect whales. It’s the latest in a series of usually-successful efforts to get powerful politicians like Senator Olympia Snowe to protect the lobster industry.
There is more the lobster industry could do, and the painfully slow progress on protecting whales is not what I would expect from a fishery that wants to be called sustainable. Sustainability includes protecting ocean ecosystems.
Here's the lobstermen’s side of the story, and a link to Maine Lobsermen's Association legal defense fund where you can contribute money to fight whale protection rules that lobstermen don't like. For more info, you can reach the Maine Lobstermen’s Association at email@example.com
Here's one example of a thought from the Jan. 2003 Massachusett's Lobsterman's Association newsletter, another place you can find the lobster industry's views:
"...I promised myself I would refrain from further criticism of developments in the whale theater of the absurd hoping, I guess, that some type of reason would prevail when dealing with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s efforts to save whales. I guess I was willing to believe that in the end they would see that fishermen are more important than the whales..."Image: entangled humpback whale Tweet