In the News – July 2021

Red Lobster faces class action lawsuit


A California woman and a law firm specializing in class action suits are suing Red Lobster for what they claim is deceptive advertising and falling short of the reastaurant’s own standards. The suit alleges that the restaurant chain menus falsely claim that their Maine lobsters are “traceable,” “sustainable” and “responsible.” Last year, the suit contends, the Gulf of Maine’s lobster fishery had its sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council suspended after a federal judge found the U.S. lobster fishery threatened endangered North Atlantic right whales. The response from the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) was swift. “The fishermen and the state have been working to protect right whales for over 20 years now and have made great strides,” stated Marianne LaCroix, executive director of MLMC. “The fishermen have made a lot of changes in the gear that they use and the way that they fish in order to make it safer for right whales.”

Deep Sea Coral Amendment now in place

Image courtesy: Newsweek

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) enacted the New England Fishery Management Council’s Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment in June, effectively protecting deep-sea corals in an area roughly 25,000 square miles in size. The amendment was first approved in 2019 after the Council developed the action and the NMFS approved it. The final rule implements the amendment, which prohibits the use of all bottom-tending gear — with the exception of red crab pots — along “the outer continental shelf in waters no shallower than 600 meters to the exclusive economic zone.” In addition to the large area of the outer continental shelf, the rule also protects an 8-square-mile area off Mount Desert Rock and a 31-square-mile area on the Outer Schoodic Ridge by prohibiting bottom tending mobile gear. These protections do not affect lobster gear.

Elver harvest brings in the dollars

Maine’s annual elver fishing season ended with a statewide catch worth an estimated $16.5 million, an $11.5 million increase over the value of the state’s 2020 harvest. Global demand for elvers was abnormally low in 2020, due to closure of many restaurants around the world. Maine is allocated a total of approximately 9,600 pounds of elvers each year. Last year fishermen reached the harvest limit but only received an average of $525 per pound, which is the lowest average price since prices began rising after the 2010 fishing season. This year, however, Maine fishermen harvested slightly less than 9,000 pounds statewide; the n average price was $1,849 per pound, an increase of $1,324 per pound over 2020.
Scientists Identify Highest Number of Right Whale Calves in Years
Scientists have now identified 18 pairs of mother and calf North Atlantic right whales this season, which is the highest number since 2013. The latest pair was spotted off the coast of Nova Scotia on May 20, according to scientists at the New England Aquarium. The number of new calves is good news for the critically endangered species. This continues a slow rebound in right whale calving after zero calves were sighted in 2018, seven were sighted in 2019 and ten in 2020.

New NOAA Website on Right Whale Acoustic Detections

In May, NOAA launched its new Passive Acoustic Cetacean Map website. Users can view passive acoustic data on five East Coast baleen whale species, including North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales, from 2004 to the present. The data do have some limits: detectors aren’t always in the water, for instance; the animal could be located anywhere within the recorder’s detection range of roughly six miles; and while a vocalizing whale’s species is comparatively easy to identify, it’s nearly impossible to tell one right whale’s voice from another’s.
Last year, acoustic recorders documented right whale calls in state waters near York, near Monhegan Island, and near Lubec. Those detections were the closest to shore in more than a decade. The maps show an abundance of recent, confirmed detections to Maine’s south, in Cape Cod Bay, to the east, near Nova Scotia, and to the north, in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. Patrice McCarron of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association notes that the most recent detections are consistent with lobstermen’s observations that right whales rarely swim near Maine’s coastline.
The Department of Marine Resources received more than $300,000 from the Maine Community Foundation to deploy seven passive acoustic monitors at sea. The new monitors will be installed later this summer. Sites aren’t finalized yet, but some might be placed in areas where federal regulators are considering seasonal fishing closures. Some could go to areas off Maine where right whales were known to congregate, and even breed, decades ago. Visit the website at https://apps-nefsc.fisheries.noaa.gov/pacm/#.

New faces at NOAA

Rick Spinrad was confirmed on June 17 by the U.S. Senate to be the next as NOAA administrator. Spinrad has been a scientist, educator, and executive whose career work has focused on promoting and protecting the oceans and their resources. Previously, he served as NOAA’s chief scientist and an assistant administrator for ocean services and coastal zone management. Among his chief priorities will be to develop a balance between environmental sustainability and economic development.
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) head Janet Coit was named later in June to lead the National Marine Fisheries Service, also known as NOAA Fisheries. Coit served as the director of the Rhode Island’s DEM for a decade. Coit’s official titles will be assistant administrator, deputy NOAA administrator, and acting assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. In her new position she will once again work for U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who served as Rhode Island’s governor until her appointment by President Joe Biden.

Scientists Identify Highest Number of Right Whale Calves in Years

Scientists have now identified 18 pairs of mother and calf North Atlantic right whales this season, which is the highest number since 2013. The latest pair was spotted off the coast of Nova Scotia on May 20, according to scientists at the New England Aquarium. The number of new calves is good news for the critically endangered species. This continues a slow rebound in right whale calving after zero calves were sighted in 2018, seven were sighted in 2019 and ten in 2020.

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