Editorial: Banding together for whale safety
We will stipulate right up front that this is not necessarily good news for lobsters.
But for mammals on land and sea, it is a positive development that some Massachusetts lobstermen are certifying that their method of trapping the tasty crustaceans is done in a manner that is safe for whales.
Starting this past weekend, lobsters caught off the state’s coast will have their claws bound by green bands stamped with “Massachusetts” and whales’ tails to highlight how state lobstermen are trying to make the seas safer for whales.
“Other areas fight these mandates. We want the public to know not all fishermen are in that category,” said Bernie Feeney, 60, a lobsterman from Whitman. “We’re ahead of the game. We’re hoping it appeals to people.”
Indeed it should, much like the “dolphin-safe” label on tuna cans assures consumers the method of catching the tuna fish from that processor does not endanger dolphins.
Marine line entanglement is the second-leading human cause of right whale deaths, behind ship strikes. Since there are an estimated 350 to 400 right whales left in the world, we need to ensure we are not the cause of their extinction.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there were 145 whale entanglements along the East Coast and in adjacent Canadian waters between 2002 and 2006, resulting in 21 whale deaths.
Between, between 1997 and 2005, at least 75 endangered whales died due to fishing gear entanglements between 1997 and 2005, including at least 16 North Atlantic right whales, according to federal statistics.
The bands are a marketing effort resulting from a state mandate that went into effect in January, 2007, requiring lobstermen to place sink lines on their traps to reduce the risk of whales becoming entangled, the first state to require such equipment.
The cost was heavy to lobstermen; according to Feeney, he had to spend about $11,000 on new lines. But state fisheries officials and environmental experts said it is a small step to take to eliminate a deadly element to the benign leviathans.
The federal government has also adopted the regulation and, despite resistance from Maine lobstermen, who lead the nation in lobster landings with $297 million in revenues (Massachusetts is a distant second with $52 million), it is scheduled to go into effect in April of next year.
This is the kind of simple compromise that balances the environmental needs of marine species with the economic needs of an industry that relies on farming the seas to make a living.
So when you get ready to crack that red delicacy and dip it into butter sometime over this summer, make sure to look for that green band. You’re helping local lobstermen as well as our warm-blooded cousins in the oceans.
Everyone wins – except the lobster.