Letter to the editor: Whale ‘rules’ story lopsided



To the Editor:

I am writing to you to address concerns I have regarding the recent (Aug. 15) news article “Lobstermen: rules threaten way of life” by Stephen Rappaport. Unfortunately, the reporter seems confused about the intent of the NMFS scoping hearing he was attending and reporting on. The article states, “The rules would require a 50 percent cut in the number of vertical buoy lines in the water.” In truth, there are no rules. This was a scoping meeting to collect feedback from the public to develop a broad range of ideas to reduce the risk of serious injury or mortality to large whales, especially North Atlantic right whales, in buoy lines from trap/pot and gill-net gear.

The 50-percent cut in buoy lines and weak rope toppers proposal that the story consistently referenced as a “rule” was simply a proposal the Maine delegation to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team chose and put forward in April in Rhode Island. That delegation was made up of Maine lobster fishermen, a scientist from Maine DMR and the director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. One Maine fisherman on the TRT said after they put forward the proposal, “This allows us to continue fishing.”

The story states “The TRT recommended that NMFS require Maine lobstermen to reduce the number of vertical buoy lines in the water by 50 percent …”

Actually, each state and some TRT stakeholder groups put forth proposals, including Maine, and there was a consensus vote in support of these proposals by all 60 members of the TRT — except the representative from the Humane Society.

The article goes on to state, “Fishermen say they support … gear-marking requirements that would help identify where whales actually became entangled with fishing gear — but that the NMFS rules are misguided.”

Again, the story suggests there are “rules” when this is a scoping process.

The article makes no mention of an important point brought up about gear-marking during the hearing: of the nearly 1,500 entanglement events identified on right whales by scientists, only 105 times has fishing rope been recovered. That means that only 7 percent of the time is rope collected and 93 percent of the time no gear is collected to analyze for gear-markings.

The article states that 23 right whales have died in Canadian waters since 2015 but makes no mention of number of right whales found dead in U.S. waters during the same time period. That number is 15.

The article goes on to state that, “Scientists say that changes in water temperature have driven the whales’ primary food source, tiny copepods known as Calanus finmarchicus out of the Gulf of Maine into Canadian waters.”

Nicholas Record and colleagues recently published a paper on the shifting oceanography in the Gulf of Maine due to climate and the impact on right whales. Their analysis shows a decrease of copepod abundance in the Bay of Fundy in the late summer but an increase in the western Gulf of Maine and Cape Cod Bay in the spring. Copepods haven’t left the Gulf of Maine.

Lastly, I don’t believe the reporting accurately represents what happened in the Ellsworth hearing.

There is no mention of Sen. King’s presence; he sat in the front and spoke. There is no mention of counterpoints, information and ideas brought forward by a number of whale scientists, educators and people representing conservation organizations. I believe this is a very lopsided piece of journalism that is heavily biased and doesn’t accurately reflect the variety of ideas brought forward by all participants and what NMFS was trying to accomplish.

Zack Klyver, Bar Harbor

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