BAR HARBOR — Earlier this year when a Bar Harbor Whale Watch trip encountered a finback whale entangled in fishing gear south of Mount Desert Rock, tempers flared in both the whale-enthusiast community and the lobster fishery. But the conversation that followed helped lead to a new effort to address entanglements, the Maine Lobster Whale Collaborative Working Group.
“It was kind of a frustrating situation,” Naturalist Zack Klyver said during a session on WERU Community Radio’s Boat Talk last week. “Due to a perfect storm of weather, geography and other factors, no one was able to get out to it and help it.” None of the government or scientific agencies who often respond to entanglements was available or able to get to the whale. A privately-funded effort was launched but could not locate the animal again.
“I’m never eating a lobster again!” some frustrated passengers on the whale watch trip that encountered the whale reportedly said.
Genevieve McDonald, captain of F/V Hello Darlin II of Stonington, who grew up on Mount Desert Island, called up Klyver a few days later to discuss what had happened.
“There was a lot of frustration from everybody involved because there was no response,” she said. “There were no resources, the weather was bad – there were a lot of factors. But you have commercial fishermen that are there. They’re on the scene, they’re hearing the call, and they can’t do anything. Their hands are tied.”
The pair agreed to continue to talk and have created the working group to continue the conversation outside of political and regulatory channels. They appeared on Boat Talk together for a conversation with producer/host Alan Sprague.
“Fishermen are very compassionate about the marine ecosystem, but we’re vilified as part of the problem,” McDonald said. “As opposed to being on the defense so much, we could be a big piece of the collaborative effort to address this issue.”
She and Klyver agreed that there’s a disadvantage under the current system for fishermen to report an entanglement. “It can affect the rules in the long run,” Klyver said. McDonald pointed to groups of fishermen in Canada who are trained to respond to entanglements, as many fishermen here were in the 1990s before the whale rules.
“Canadian lobstermen do not have to fear reprisal in reporting entanglements and are trained to lead disentanglement efforts. In Canada, lobstermen are being celebrated as part of the solution; while here, we continue to be vilified as part of the problem. It’s frustrating, as we’re the same fishery.”
She explained the existing federal rules for lobster gear intended to limit entanglements, which have been implemented in phases under the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. Fishermen have weak link requirements, limits on where and when they can use floating rope, gear marking requirements. Offshore, they also have to have longer trawls – more traps on a line attached to a single buoy at the surface.
“It’s exciting to be able to put together a group that operates somewhat outside of the political structure,” McDonald said, “and open the dialogue between the different groups.”
Klyver said he hopes more advanced technology could provide a win-win. “Imagine if the environmental groups, fishermen and industry, and the scientists were all together in identifying where the funding could best be used to solve this problem,” he said. “Imagine going to Senators Collins and King and saying, ‘We’re all on the same page.’ They’d be like, ‘Are you kidding? We’ve never seen this before!’”
Contact the working group at [email protected]