The rules would have required lobstermen to create new seasonal nonfishing zones and further reduce their use of vertical ropes to retrieve lobster traps from the seafloor. Entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with many types of ships are the leading causes of right whale deaths.
Maine's congressional delegation amended a federal spending bill to delay the new regulations until 2028 and called for more research on whale entanglements and ropeless fishing gear. Conservationists argue that the delay could drive North Atlantic right whales, which number about 340 today, to extinction.
This is the latest chapter in an ongoing and sometimes fraught debate over fishing gear and bycatch — unintentionally caught species that fishermen don't want and can't sell. My research as a maritime historian, focusing on disputes tied to industrial fishing, shows the profound impacts that particular fishing gear can have on marine species.
Disputes over fishing gear and bycatch have involved consumers, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers and environmentalists. With conservation pitted against economic livelihoods, emotions often run high. And these controversies aren't resolved quickly, which bodes poorly for species on the brink.