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Fisherman fined for trying to disentangle gear from whale

October 2, 2009 | 12:11 pm

A humpback whale breaches.

A Massachusetts fisherman has been fined for freeing a whale that had become entangled in his fishing gear.

In a plea deal, Chatham resident Robert Eldridge was fined $500 after pleading guilty in Federal court to violating the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. He had faced up to $100,000 in fines and a year in prison. 

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's office in Boston, Eldridge was operating a commercial fishing boat last year and had set gill nets in an area where humpback whales were present, and one promptly got entangled.

Upon learning of the trapped cetacean, Eldridge attempted to free it himself rather than calling the toll-free Marine Animal Disentanglement Hotline -- the number for which he had posted on his boat -- to bring in licensed marine mammal rescue workers.

Unable to disentangle the whale, he eventually cut the gear from the boat, leaving about 30-feet of line on the marine mammal.

In addition to the fine, Eldridge also provided a written statement that can be distributed to other anglers, which acknowledged his actions and in part read:

"I am making this statement in order to alert all persons who fish or enjoy being in the waters off Massachusetts that we must be, at all times vigilant in protecting of the marine mammal species with whom we share the waters."

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: A humpback whale breaches in this file photo. Credit: Associated Press