Saving right whales and lobsters too

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1997:

Infuriating New England lobster fishers with recent
court victories that restrict their methods on behalf of endangered
northern right whales, Richard “Mad Max” Strahan
may save the lobsters too.
A vegetarian Buddhist tai chi practitioner, Strahan
has “no permanent address or telephone,” according to
Portland Press Herald staff writer Edie Lau, but does have
an e-mail address and self-taught expertise in marine biology
and law. As “a confrontational street person,” again in
Lau’s words, Straham last September forced the National
Marine Fisheries Service to produce rules published April 4
that as outlined in a NMFS summary, “restrict the federal
portion of Cape Cod Bay right whale critical habitat to certain
lobster gear types” from April 1 until May 15, and
“close the entire Great South Channel right whale critical
habitat to lobster pot fishing from April 1 to June 30.”

Expecting Strahan’s precedents to hold in Maine as
well as Massachusetts, NMFS on April 3 proposed similar
rules for Gulf of Maine lobstering––which prompted protest
from Governor Angus King and inspired Senator Olympia
Snowe (R-Me.) to promise a field hearing in Maine of the
Senate Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries.
Maine commissioner of marine resources Robin
Alden estimates the worth of the state’s lobster industry at
$102 million a year. The cost of complying with the NMFS
standards, he says, would be $40 million to $70 million.
“We all have to get together and work on this one,”
cautioned Maine Lobstermen’s Association president David
Cousins, “because if we don’t win it, we’re dead. We’re
going to have to do this in a politically correct manner,” he
continued. “This is one of the most endangered species on
the planet and everybody loves whales. We don’t need to pit
ourselves against the right whale. We’ll lose every time. It’s
us against the stupidity of bureaucracy.”
But Portland Shellfish salesperson Al Jordan hinted
that other fishers don’t see it that way. “In talking with some
guys who are a few cans short of a six-pack,” he told Lau,
“I’ve heard them say, ‘If there’s only 300 whales between
me and fishing, then it could be solved. If that’s a threat,
you eliminate the threat. We’re talking survival.’”
Two northern right whales are known to have
drowned after entanglement in lobster lines during the past
two decades. Both were among the eight recorded northern
right whale deaths last year. The deaths were offset by 16
known births last winter off North Carolina, the only known
northern right whale calving area. Just one calf is known to
have died. Expecting more trouble from Strahan, NMFS last
December 1 closed driftnet swordfishing in U.S. Atlantic
waters until May 29, including the Gulf of Mexico and the
Caribbean, and “reinitiated consultation under the
Endangered Species Act,” said a press release, “due to new
information on the status of the northern right whale.”
There were as many as 80,000 northern right
whales before they were intensively hunted during the 18th
and early 19th centuries, but may have been as few as 100
by 1850. Until last year, northern right whales were
believed to be virtually extinct in Pacific waters, but Seattle
scientist Pam Goddard photographed two adults with a baby
from the deck of the research ship Arcturus last summer.
Three groups of southern right whales survive: a
seldom-seen remnant population off Brazil, rediscovered
less than 20 years ago by Jose Truda Palazzo; about 2,300
off the South African coast including a record 146 cow-andcalf
pairs photographed last year by University of Pretoria
senior whale researcher Peter Best; and a similar population
who mate in the Great Australian Bight Whale Sanctuary.
Maine lobstering is still booming, but signs of
depletion last year brought trap labeling requirements and a
limit of 1,200 traps per license holder. The rules withstood a
court challenge last August. The Massachusetts legislature is
considering strengthening its lobstering requirements, to deal
more firmly with illegal catches of egg-bearing females.

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