U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton on Monday called the Maine Lobstermen's Association shortsighted for stepping away from the federal plan to increase protections for North Atlantic right whales, saying the defection will dull its membership's ability to influence the plan ultimately adopted by NOAA Fisheries.

"It limits their involvement in the solution going forward," Moulton said on a teleconference organized by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "We really want to get everyone on board here and we want to make sure that it's a solution that works for all the stakeholders. I don't think you're going to find any lobstermen that who say they want the right whale to go away."

Moulton, a primary author of a House bill to help save the endangered right whales, said he believes the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association's decision to remain at the table as the Atlantic right whale take reduction team thrashes out the final plan for the approval of NOAA Fisheries is the proper one.

"I think part of the reason the Massachusetts lobstermen are at the table to be a part of this process and its agreement moving forward is because they recognize that if this gets even more dire, they may literally be regulated out of business," Moulton said. "I think the lobstermen in Massachusetts are being really smart. I think right now the lobstermen in Maine are being shortsighted. But we hope to bring them back on board, because ultimately they're going to be better off having a seat at the table than not."

On Aug. 30, the Maine Lobstermen's Association withdrew its support of the plan formulated by the Atlantic right whale take reduction team because of what it considered faulty science, an unfair portrayal of the industry's culpability in right whale injuries and deaths, and a rushed process.

The plan, approved in April by the take reduction team, primarily focuses on weaker rope gear and removing vertical lobster buoy lines from the region's waters to achieve a 60 percent reduction in serious injuries and deaths of the beleaguered right whales, whose total population now hovers around 400.

It calls for the Maine lobster industry to remove 50 percent of the vertical lines, while lobstermen in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are tasked with extracting 30 percent of their vertical lines.

Monday's teleconference was billed as an opportunity "to focus on solutions and technology that can be focused on solutions and technology that can be deployed to reduce the dangers threatening the right whale and ensure a thriving fishing industry."

The sole discussion on technology Monday centered on ropeless fishing gear. The panel, beside Moulton, included two IFAW staffers and Rob Morris, a sales engineer with EdgeTech, a company that has developed a ropeless gear fishing system.

Lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts have roundly rejected the practicality of ropeless fishing gear, though some remain part of the testing and development of the systems by EdgeTech and others. 

Both of the IFAW staffers on the call — chief veterinarian Sarah Sharpe and marine conservation director Patrick Ramage — echoed Moulton, saying all stakeholders, including commercial lobstermen and fishermen, should have a role in devising the solution to bring the right whales back from the brink of extinction.

"That's going to require effort from fishermen up and down the east coast of North America, in U.S. and Canadian waters," Ramage said. "Protecting right whales and insuring that a thriving lobster industry can survive without the price being the extinction of this species is going to require ultimately the engagement of multiple stakeholders, first and foremost, the fishermen who have the information."

That being the case, Ramage was asked, why weren't there any commercial lobstermen of fishermen on the panel for the call?

"We did not extend an invitation," Ramage said. "In this call, we were seeking to highlight legislative, scientific and technology aspects. Our focus remains the long-term reality that in order to save North Atlantic right whales, it's going to require collaboration and direct engagement of industry on solutions."

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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