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Right whales – public comments range from ‘save the whales’ to ‘save the fishermen’

By David Pendered

“What world do we want to give to our children?” That’s all a Swiss man had to say about a proposal intended to protect Georgia’s endangered marine mammal – the right whale.

Spotted off Georgia in January, this close up image shows the commercial fishing line tangled around the tail of North American right whale No. 1803. File/Credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute Taken under NOAA research permit 18786

Samuel Sautaux posted his comment from Lentigny, Switzerland, located north of the Alps. This is all that we may ever know about the author.

His comment is among about 171,208 received from individuals who live near and far from the right whales’ cruising grounds and posted an opinion on the latest federal effort to protect the species on the public comment page overseen by NOAA.

These comments are now being processed as part of the federal government’s effort to enact regulations intended to prevent whales from becoming entangled in commercial fishing gear in New England. A photo of a whale towing such gear off Georgia’s coast in January captivated attention. Scientists couldn’t get close enough to untangle the line and free the creature.

Some of the comments are quite succinct, as was Sautaux’s. Others are more elaborate – including one from an author who signs as a 69-year-old, sixth-generation lobsterman from Maine who says the proposal amounts to a “death sentence” on the industry.

All the authors share an opinion of the future of a mammal that in the 1890s was nearly hunted to extinction, and now is described by NOAA as “one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, with less than 400 individuals remaining.”

Here’s a selection of the comments, chosen at random:

The North American right whale named Champagne, and calf, were seen about 3 nautical miles east of Amelia Island, Fla., on Jan. 2021. Whale 3270 is 12 years old and this is her first documented calf, according to GDNR. File/Credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute Taken under NOAA permit 20556-01

Ann Oliver, no hometown given

  • “WE ARE BEGGING YOU… From the coast of southern Maine, truly We are begging you.”

Richard Clark, Houston

  • “If we cannot protect right whales then perhaps we will be the next extinction.”

Isaac Wolfson, college student, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

  • “Instituting weak ropes is not a sufficient solution. Instead, right whales need longer habitat closures that protect them from external harm. NOAA should do everything in its power to sanction roped fishing gear and require ropeless gear in its place.”

Dudley G. Gray, Oquossoc, Maine

  • “NOAA entanglement reported in 2017 – of the nine Right whale entanglement including 2 deaths, all were in Canadian waters and seven of the nine were Snow Crab gear. More study is needed before destroying the jobs of 5000 Maine fishermen and billion dollar industry. This is absolutely wrong. Never mind the fact that most whale deaths from Florida north are from ship strikes.”

Vivian Gharakhani, Savannah

  • “[T]o help protect the endangered right whales while sustainable fishing practices are put in place, it will be imperative to first enact emergency closures of the pathways and areas where right whales move up and down the eastern coastal waters.”

Bruce Fernald, F/V Barbara Ann, Islesford, Maine

Jarod Bray, commercial fisherman

Jarod Bray, whose worked 20 years as a commercial fisherman off Maine, posted a comment saying the proposed regulations to protect whales won’t solve the problem and should be revised. File/Credit: Facebook.com

  • “I am a 69 year old sixth generation lobster fisherman from Islesford, Maine. I have been lobster fishing for 47 years and this is my life.
  • “Back in the 1970’s there were 250 or so Right Whales. Today there are 50% more. In all that time there have been no Right Whale deaths from Maine lobster gear, and just one entanglement. How can it be justified to shut down the whole coast of Maine for what is clear evidence that there is not a problem? Ship strikes will continue regardless of 10 MPH zones, but will the shipping industry be shut down?
  • “Nothing in life, on earth, is perfect or guaranteed. We all are at risk every day and so is everything else on this planet. If an endangered bird flies into a power line are we to bury all power lines? A turtle could be crushed while trying to cross a road. Are we to do away with all roads? So on and so on, where does it end? Nobody wants to kill any of these.
  • “We as fishermen have no desire to see an entangled whale. We have done all protective measures that have been asked of us. In the future, please don’t ask the industry to do impossible measures. I know the deck is stacked against us with all the different conservation groups who might mean well, but obviously, when it comes to the State of Maine waters, they know not what they are talking about.
  • “I believe that removing latent lobster licenses could be a way of lowering numbers of potential end lines in the water. The lobster industry should be able to use this as part of our plan.
  • “The effect of a 98% reduction for the coast of Maine is a death sentence. Not just for lobster fishermen but for the many businesses that rely on the fishery to be strong and healthy. We have been fishing for decades with very little interaction with whales, especially Right Whales. I will waste no words on rope-less fishing because that is a useless waste of time.
  • “I realize NOAA is in a miserable position. You have the facts and you are being forced by the environmental groups and the courts to do extreme harm to our financial and social way of life. This is not right. We have been working with you ever since this started and have done everything that has been asked. Enough is enough!”
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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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