The NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s final ruling to prohibit the use of lobster gear such as buoy lines in the harvest of lobsters off the coast of Maine has received a temporary restraining order from District Court judge Lance Walker. This means that North American lobster fishermen will be able to carry on with business as usual within the prime 967 square mile offshore of the Gulf of Maine through January. This area was the focus of the original final ruling because this was thought to be a “hotspot” for North American right whales to congregate and pass through, however this was contested as there was little evidence supporting this. Even the NMFS own predictive models forecast very low percentages of right whale presence during the closure. The North American right whale gets its name from ancient whaling boats referring to them as the ‘right whale to catch’ because they can float postmortem unlike most whales. This made them the easiest to haul into their boats and as a result left them highly endangered and are still struggling, seeing an 30% decrease in population over the last 20 years bringing total numbers to be estimated below 350. The ruling initially was supposed to last from October 18 to January, with the goal being to minimize the impact their gear had on the whale population.
The Maine Lobstering Union argued that there was not enough substantial evidence showing that the restriction of lobster gear would impact the whale population and habitat, and the judge agreed. Judge Walker said he felt there were certain economic harms that would result from allowing the closure, far outweighing the unknown and uncertain benefits it would have to the whales. He also stated that this ruling was made on “markedly thin statistical modeling methodology” which strays from their previous approach which required justification for the closures backed by known and predictable patterns as well as concrete evidence. The ruling instead was driven by a whale density model meant to identify areas of higher risk where a closure would see the highest gain in risk reduction. Wholesalers and lobstermen are losing upwards of $4 million for each season they cannot fish and puts them in jeopardy of going out of business. Maines congressional delegation is now seeking support of the Biden administ