Right Whales

The Problem

North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered and protected in the U.S. under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. 
From 1970 to 2010, the right whale population more than doubled from 200 to 481 whales. In 2017, scientists learned that the right whale population had
been in decline since 2010. This decline is a result of several factors, including warming waters due to climate change and a shift in prey habitat and abundance.
The discovery of the decline coincided with the start of an “unusual mortality event” of 17 human-caused right whale deaths documented in
2017 (12 Canada, 1 U.S. 4 unknown). In 2018 and 2019, 14 additional human-caused right whale deaths were detected (11 Canada, 3 unknown).

Right Whale Stewardship

Maine lobstermen have been at the forefront of right whale protections since 1997 when the first Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (TRP or Whale Plan) was adopted. Maine lobstermen have made many changes to how they fish to make the fishery safer in the rare event a right whale encounters Maine lobster gear.
Removed more than 30,000 miles of rope from the water
  • Removed all floating line from the surface (1997)
  • Added more traps to each buoy line (2014, 2022)
  • Replaced floating groundlines with sinking groundlines in non-exempt waters (2009) 
  • Removed all lobster gear from 1,000 mi2 of prime fishing grounds for 1/3 of the year (2021)
Weakened remaining lines to whales can break free
  • Incorporated “weak links” below the buoy (2001)
  • Incorporated “weak inserts” into the buoy line (2022)
 Added Distinctive Gear Marking to Trace Entangling Gear to the Fishery
  • Original gear marking with red marker (2001, 2007, 2014)
  • Incorporated three purple marks to all gear fished in state waters (2020)
  • Incorporated four green and four purple marks to all gear fished in federal waters (2020, 2022)
Maine Whale Rules Outreach Guide (updated April 2022) 

Maine Lobster Industry Stamped with Expiration Date

In 2021, the federal government adopted a draconian 10 year plan intended to protect North Atlantic right whales. The plan will not protect right whales, but it will eliminate 
the Maine Lobster fishery. The plan requires three phases of risk reduction for the Maine lobster industry to achieve a 98% by 2030. If lobstermen do not meet this mandate,
it will be illegal for the federal government to continue to permit the lobster fishery. Maine lobstermen implemented the phase 1 reductions in May 2022.

The MLA is leading the lobster industry’s effort to save Maine’s lobster fishery AND endangered right whales. The MLA sued the federal government asserting that the 
government’s plan relies on arbitrary assumptions and ignores the best available science. MLA is also an intervenor in litigation brought against the federal government
by environmental groups seeking more stringent whale protections.

For More Information

Save Maine Lobstermen
Right Whales and Maine Lobster
The Whale Plan (Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan)
Gear Marking Requirements for Maine
Minimum Trawl Length Requirements for Maine
Weak Rope/Insert Requirements for Maine