A victory of sorts for those seeking to protect North Atlantic right whales from becoming entangled in fishing lines as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) agreed to finally enforce a 2005 decision that, primarily, forces fishermen to use rope that sinks to the ocean floor instead of the current floating rope they've been using.
I say "of sorts" because the Ocean Conservancy and Humane Society had to sue the NMFS to actually get them to enforce a 2-year old rule and, as the AP articles points out, "it is uncertain what the final rule will look like."
But whatever the rule does eventually look like it will take effect in October.
Massachusetts has already forced their fishermen to use the new lines (as well as rotating fishing lanes out of Boston Harbor to the north to avoid an area of high right-whale concentration), but other states have not. The biggest impact of the enforcement of the decision will take place in Maine. The Portland Press Herald has a rather even-handed and balanced article on the matter, where they point out both the economic truth that this is going to cost the lobstermen money (the paper puts the price tag at $10,000 to $15,000), and that the NMFS helped cause the lawsuit because of their too-slow regulatory procedures.
I'm reminded of a David Brower quote from John McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid, where (in a chat about dams, IIRC) he points out that conservationists have to win all the time, but the other side only has to win once. His point was that whenever a dam proposal goes up, if the anti-dam forces lose, the dam (which are hard and expensive to undo) gets built, but if they win there's nothing to stop that proposal coming up for debate again and again.
What the right whale/fishing lines issue points out is that even if the environmentalists win and get a decision to go their way, there's still a long way from a new rule being passed to it being implemented. At least here, unlike with the dams, the environmentalists were able to take advantage of the legal system and force the MNFS to act.
I'm not averse to the concerns of the lobstermen here, either. I have no idea if the $10,000 - $15,000 cost to lobstermen is accurate (it was provided to the Portland Press by the executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association) but that's not an insignificant number. Nobody likes to have new and expensive government fees thrown at them. It seems to me that something could be done to offset the financial burden (a lobster tax, a no-interest loan) until 2008, when the lobstermen were told the new rules would be taking place.
As I read through all the stories and press releases, I'm still struck by the lack of details provided - there's a lot of specifics that need to be agreed in the next 2 1/2 months.
Which makes me wonder if they new rules will, in fact, go into effect before the end of 2007.
North Atlantic right whales are endangered; it is believed there are only 300-350 remaining in the wild. Right whales winter in the American Southeast (off the coasts of Florida and Georgia) and summer in the Northeast (New England and Canada).
The Ocean Conservancy's Press Release can be found here.