World Ocean Census - Extract 25 - Changes in fisheries practice help whales

3 September 2010

All is not completely bleak, however. Another Census study has shown how better management of the lobster fishery in Maine may benefit North Atlantic right whales, which remain critically endangered despite more than 70 years of protection. Their recovery is being hindered by accidental mortality caused by ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

Scientists studying photographs of right whales found that 75 percent bore evidence of entanglement, predominantly from lobster fishing gear. Lobster traps are tied to the surface via a buoy line and to other traps via ground lines, leading to entanglements as the whales swim and feed in the Gulf of Maine. Despite government regulations aimed at reducing entanglements, the problem is worsening.

The Census study demonstrates how Maine lobster fishers can protect the North Atlantic right whale without hurting their own bottom line. A team of researchers comparing the Nova Scotia and Maine lobster fisheries found that Maine lobster fishers could substantially reduce the number of traps and shorten the fishing season by as much as six months, and still catch the same amount of lobster, at lower cost. Doing so would protect right whales by reducing the risk of entanglements in fishing gear, a key obstacle to their recovery from the brink of extinction. “This is a classic win-win situation,” says Boris Worm. “Given the high fuel and bait costs lobstermen incur, a shorter season and fewer traps will actually save money without reducing their catches.”

Text and images reprinted with permission from World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life by Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scowcroft and James M. Harding Jr., Firefly Books, 2009.

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