Monday, July 13, 2009

Right Whales and Lobsters: lobstermen working to protect endangered whale

In addition to the Shark-Free Marina Initiative gaining a foothold in the northeast, the Ocean Conservancy is reporting progress with lobster fisherman in developing techniques to better protect whales, particularly the highly endangered Right Whale, from entanglement in their fishing lines.

Fisherman from Maine to Massachusetts are finding it benefits them in terms of overall cost efficiency to use fewer traps (greater yield vs. the cost to service/maintain). They are also switching to sinking rope that connect the traps, rather than the floating rope which was used in the past and posed a hazard to the whales. And there are more steps being considered.

The right whale population, hunted extensively off the New England coast until about 65 years ago, now numbers only about 400 individuals. They are one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet. Yet, while no longer a target of harpoons, two human activities continue to pose major risks. The first is ship strikes. The second risk is entanglement in fishing gear, especially the heavy lines of lobster gear.

"The steps that Massachusetts lobstermen have taken are an important start to getting endangered whale populations on the road to recovery," said Vicki Cornish, vice president of marine wildlife conservation at Ocean Conservancy.

"The Massachusetts lobstermen have stepped up to the plate and been proactive in their participation," says lobsterman Mark Ring. 'We didn’t always all agree, but we are doing as much as we can do to protect these whales."

Bill Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, echoed the sentiment, saying, "We are the first in the nation to take important steps to protect whales with our fishing gear. We hope to set an example for other fisheries along the East Coast."

Read entire Ocean Conservancy article.

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