Off the coast of Maine, a strange new battle was brewing, pitting an environmental stewardship group against a time-honored industry in a battle over one of America’s most incredible delicacies: The Maine Lobster.
At issue was en environmental group’s demerit – based on concerns for the safety of endangered Right Whales – that was then used to pressure retailers to stop buying the catch. Potential legislation soon followed, and soon the entire industry was set to collapse.
Lobsterman Curt Brown had already logged a full day on the water by the time he pulled up to a fishing wharf just blocks from downtown Portland restaurants bustling with lunchtime diners.
The 250 to 300 pounds of lobster he had hauled up from the cold Maine waters could land on a plate just up the street – or in a restaurant on the other side of the globe. And on this chilly December day, Brown was feeling more hopeful about the prospects for Maine’s iconic lobster industry.
“I think our industry, for the first time in a long time, can see a ray of sunshine and feel optimistic that the hard work we have been doing is being recognized,” Brown said.
Just a day earlier, the lobster industry had received welcome news in the fishery’s years-long battle with environmental groups over protections for the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The news may have saved the industry altogether.
The state’s congressional delegation – which has locked arms with Maine’s billion-dollar lobster industry – had pulled off a procedural end-run by inserting a 6-year delay on new federal fishing regulations into a $1.7 trillion spending bill.
For Maine’s 5,000 licensed commercial lobstermen, it meant a reprieve from rules that they warned could destroy their industry – and decimate coastal communities – by forcing them off the water in some areas for months at a time and eliminating the vertical lines of rope connecting a string of traps on the bottom to a buoy on the surface. Those lines can become wrapped around whales’ fins or lodged in their mouths. But “ropeless” fishing gear, which relies on technology to allow fishermen to call a trap up to the surface, is still in development and is not available on a wide scale commercially.
Maine’s lobstermen have been unable to find any evidence that their methods or tactics have ever harmed a single Right Whale, making the new challenges to the industry simply unnecessary.