By Barbara Skapa
When a species is declared “critically” (not just “vulnerable” or “seriously”) endangered by an international consortium you can bet that it is in serious trouble. The Koalas in Australia have just this past week been added to that “vulnerable” pile because of the habitat losses and fires that we all saw on the news.
Also on TV news are the starved Florida Manatees being hand fed lettuce just to keep them alive.
That title currently applies to lowland maintain Gorillas in Africa, Amur leopards, and a number of amphibians that few of us are familiar with and probably wouldn’t serve up for din-dins anyway.
It sure looks bad.
And to add to all that we have another species right here in Maine also in deep deep trouble, that few are aware of, and if so, blame everyone else but us for their plight: the North Atlantic Right Whale.
It is a huge slow moving friendly whale a bit like the Labrador retriever of the whale world. It cruises up and down the Atlantic coast. Almost hunted to extinction by whalers, at long last the whales started to make a slow comeback. But given what this species is up against, it is barely hanging on with only 336 animals left and not enough breeding females to keep up with mortalities.
They are designated under the Endangered Species Act (like wolves) and states are mandated to protect them.
This is like assigning an exclusive Social Security name and number to the whale, along with lots of research and studies and recommendations to prevent it going to outright extinction – while maintaining a very important fisheries – lobster.
The problem for the whales is the lobster fisheries technology: lobster trap ropes. Three million traps in our waters, with half a million vertical ropes linking bottom traps to surface buoys entangle and eventually kill, whales, sea turtles and seals. It is an underwater jungle out there: animals die. At the same time lobsters, which are giant insects, are steadily moving northwards as Gulf of Maine waters warm. In the next 10 to 20 years, lobstermen, already challenged by regulations, fickle international markets, and competition from Canada, will need to find another way to make a living.
In the meantime, however its attitude is one of denial – of problems, let alone solutions and for the most part Maine’s congressional and state legislators concur, rather than help to transition fishing technologies with finance and promotion.
Canada and Massachusetts are both ahead of Maine in the help they give to their lobster industry, including financing of ropeless technology, now available, along with improved ropes also available. NOAA and state marine fisheries services along with WHOI and the NEAQ cooperate on researching and experimenting with whale-friendly fishing technology. Ropeless technology means just that: a tap on a smart-phone app sends traps up without ropes. Like a cell phone which when first sold, weighed a ton, cost a lot, and gave poor service the technology improves over time and use. Ropeless technology is being experimented with in Maine with cooperating lobstermen as eager to protect the whales as their livelihoods. They are the wave of the future.