Amidst tension over right whale deaths, Maine lobster group backs Canadian fishermen

Atlantic Canadian lobster fishermen are getting some support from competitors south of the border.

The president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Kristan Porter, opposes a move to ban some Canadian seafood because of the deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters.

“I think that doing that type of thing would only hurt the industry and not really solve the problem,” said Porter, a commercial fisherman from Cutler, Maine.

The lobster fishery has not been implicated in any of the recent whale deaths.

But as a trap fishery with vertical lines in the water, fishermen on both sides of the border are under pressure to do more to protect whales from entanglements.

This female North Atlantic right whale found in the Gulf of St Lawrence on Sept. 15, 2017, died from ‘severe entanglement,’ the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The deaths of 20 right whales in Canada since 2017 have aggravated some Maine lobster fishermen, who feel they are paying for the situation in Canada.

“What’s happened over the past few years, some of the stuff hasn’t worked. That concerns us because it means that we actually have to do more as well,” said Porter.

“Because the less the population, the more regulations come on us, so we’re obviously concerned about it.”

Porter said Maine has done its part, operating with protections that exceed Canadian requirements, such as a ban on floating rope, and the use of breakaway rope and marked gear to identify the source of an entanglement — the latter step is being introduced in Atlantic Canada trap fisheries later this year.

The differences matter because under the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act, the U.S. can ban imports of seafood from countries that do not have equivalent protections for whales.

The new specially coloured rope, which becomes mandatory for fisheries in Eastern Canada this year, will include details such as the country, species being fished and individual fishing area. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

But Porter disagrees with those in his country calling for a ban on Atlantic Canadian trap fisheries.

“I think it would be unfortunate if that happened. I think that the fishermen and the governments are trying to address this problem,” he said.

The Canadian government defends its protections, saying they measure up with what is in place in the United States.

Annual town hall

On the weekend, lobster fishermen and processors were in Moncton, N.B., for an annual town hall to discuss issues of mutual concern.

Despite the tensions over the right whale and competition for sales in a global market, the lobster industry in both countries is integrated.

“I think they’re co-dependent,” said David Thomas, a Maine lobster fisherman for 45 years.

“We have so many companies now that operate on either side of the border. Facilities in New Brunswick, they have facilities in P.E.I. and Maine. Product gets shipped back and forth.”

Leo Muise of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, which is made up of processors and plant operators, welcomed Porter’s statement.

“It’s encouraging that they recognize both industries are so intertwined. It’s in everyone’s interest to keep the borders open,” he said.

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