Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Lobster lovers versus blubber lovers

Al Diamon

In Maine, hardly any restaurants serve whale.

For good reasons. Whales are endangered, so any chef who offers the giant mammals as the fresh catch of the day is guaranteed to incite protests, vandalism and the sort of caustic online reaction usually reserved for racist remarks from the president.

Also, I have it on good authority that whale meat is very gamey. At best, it’s an acquired taste.

On the other hand, right whales weigh as much as 70 tons, which means just one could supply the average sushi bar with the makings of enough gunkan maki for every hipster in Maine. This assumes every hipster would want a helping, which they probably wouldn’t because it would be the worst gunkan maki ever made. So, there’d be enough left over for any Boston hipsters adventurous enough to eat that glop.

Even though this sushi scenario is unlikely to occur, whales are still being killed by human beings. The huge sea creatures get hit by ships. They become entangled in fishing gear. They’re pursued by madmen named Ahab bent on revenge. They expire from rolling their eyes at hackneyed “Moby Dick” references.

But the real villain isn’t Herman Melville. According to prominent environmental groups, it’s the lobster.

You might not believe a pound-and-a-quarter crustacean would pose much of a threat to a 140,000-pound cetacean, but you’d be underestimating one crucial aspect of the lobster’s physiognomy.
Unlike whales, lobsters are delicious. That means there’s lots of demand for lobster meat. And that means there’s a thriving industry devoted to meeting that demand by trapping as many of the creatures as the law will allow. Last year, that amounted to over 119 million pounds of lobster or more than twice as much as the combined weight of all right whales known to exist.

More important, the lobster trade in 2018 was worth about $485 million or double the value of all other seafood fisheries in Maine combined. Without lobster, the state’s embattled working waterfronts would cease to exist. Nevertheless, some environmentalists are willing to risk that, because, they say, to do otherwise would result in whales ceasing to exist.

“The right whale’s future is at a crossroads,” Emily Green of the Conservation Law Foundation and Jane Davenport of Defenders of Wildlife wrote in a recent op-ed. “What we do – or fail to do – in the coming months will turn its path toward extinction of toward recovery.”

To achieve the latter, the eco-knowers are calling for a 60 percent reduction in the number of lines attached to lobster traps, a proposition as environmentally friendly as it is economically disastrous. Fewer lines means a smaller catch, driving most practitioners of the trade out of business. More traps on a single line increases the danger of a variety of mishaps, particularly for smaller boats, that could result in a sharp increase in injuries or deaths, thereby saving whales at the expense of people.

Lobsters like both these ideas.

There ought to be a technological solution to this dilemma, just as there ought to be a technological solution to global warming, four-hour baseball games and weirdos who drink hard seltzer. Something involving lasers and wormholes, maybe. While we’re developing that, we should be careful not to do unnecessary damage to a crucial Maine industry in order to preserve a creature we can’t seem to coexist with and would prefer not to eat.

Call me Ishmael – or other nasty names – by emailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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2 Responses »

  1. The lobster market will sort itself out, in 2010, China imported just a mere 200,000lbs, last year they imported 20 times that amount, and the trap limit has dropped considerably since 2010, in 2010 it was a 2000 trap limit now it is an 800 trap limit. and it used to be an 8 1/2in carapace size maximum with a 6 7/8in carapace size minimum, now it is a 3 1/4in minimum and a 6 3/4in maximum. there were more traps in the water in 2010 than there is now it wasn't a problem then, and it isn't a problem now.

  2. I do not have a solution to propose, but I do have the experience of working in 3 different stores/restaurants that had lobster tanks. The loss of life (and thus the wasted lobster meat) that those tanks suffer is pretty gross- and fishing out the dead lobsters is pretty gross, too. One tiny way to reduce our lobster needs/costs might be for establishments to do away with the "live lobster" tanks, for starters.

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