About 40 lobster boats participated Wednesday in the boat parade protesting Massachusetts’ current closure of virtually all of its state waters to commercial lobstering as a protection for the North Atlantic right whales.

The boats, which primarily hailed from Gloucester, Manchester and Rockport, staged around Ten Pound Island in the late afternoon and then headed in single file toward the head of the harbor.

Motoring under gray skies, placid temperatures and calm winds, the boats moved into the north channel that runs adjacent to the Everett R. State Fish Pier. Dozens of vehicles were parked near the end of the pier and onlookers ringed the southwest corner of the pier in a show of support for the lobstermen.

Nancy MacDowell of Rockport was at the state fish pier to support her lobstering family in its effort to bring awareness to the closure and the negative impact its is having on those who lobster in state waters.

“I have a son-in-law, Mike Tupper, and a grandson, Mike Tupper Jr., in the parade today,” MacDowell said. “These guys just work so hard.”

On Jan. 28, the Massachusetts Fisheries Advisory Commission, following recommendations from the state Division of Marine Fisheries, approved a package of enhanced protections for the imperiled right whales, whose remaining numbers now are estimated to be around 360.

The package includes the closure, which mandated commercial lobstermen remove all traps and other gear from state waters to help alleviate the possibility of entanglement with the whales as they migrate through Massachusetts waters on their way north.

Next year, according to the new regulations, the closure will run from Feb. 1 to at least May 1— and possibly to May 15, depending on the presence or absence of right whales in state waters.

The new protections also include new gear requirements, including new lines that break away at 1,700 pounds of pressure and a maximum buoy line diameter of 3/8 an inch. The new gear requirements are set to go into effect in May.

Many of the lobster boats carried signs. Some simply urged people to support their local fishermen and lobstermen.

Others were more specific, taking issue with the science that has listed lobster gear entanglements as one of the key dangers for the right whales.

A woman standing atop the Lady J’s wheelhouse held up a sign that said, “Wake up. This isn’t about saving whales.”

The Beast of Burden and other vessels carried a sign that said, “Abolish the closure. Conjecture isn’t science. Shoddy science shouldn’t put lobstermen out of work.”

Once in the north channel, the boats turned and headed back along the waterfront, past Cruiseport Gloucester and Harbor Loop and into the heart of the Inner Harbor. They then traced a course along Stacey Boulevard and the end of the parade’s watery route. 

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

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