Finally! A win for Maine lobstermen
KENNEBUNK, Maine (December 20, 2022)-- Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, and Governor Janet Mills announced that they were successful in securing a regulatory pause for Maine's lobster industry in the Omnibus funding package that is expected to pass the Senate and House this week.
Following is a statement from Patrice McCarron, Executive Director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association:
"The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) is encouraged that Congress recognizes that the federal rulemaking process intended to protect right whales is broken. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has shunned its statutory obligations and based its current, unlawful plan to protect right whales on a “worst case scenario” that has already harmed, and could eventually eliminate, Maine’s multi-generational lobstering heritage while doing nothing to reduce the unacceptably high number of right whale deaths occurring in Canadian waters and from vessel strikes.
"Congress is providing time to allow the lobster fishery to continue to operate while a new, lawful plan—based on realistic assumptions and the best scientific and commercial information—is developed without decimating this critical industry and the coastal and island communities that depend upon it. The Maine lobster fishery is not driving the right whale population decline, and the species cannot be saved by unlawfully overregulating a fishery that, according to federal data, has never been linked with a right whale death.
"The rhetoric from national advocacy organizations claiming that this important legislation will lead to the “extinction” of the right whale is contrary to undisputed science, false, and meant to serve only their fringe interests. The right whale has persisted for decades since it was almost driven to extinction by commercial whaling and it will continue to do so while a new, lawful plan is developed that appropriately addresses the actual risks to the species.
"This legislation also secures millions of dollars of funding for much-needed scientific research that will better inform that future plan and help to ensure that this process is driven by good science rather than the political interests of national advocacy groups.
"MLA is incredibly grateful for the extraordinary efforts of the Maine delegation and Governor Mills who worked to ensure that the most sustainable fishery in the world can continue to operate and to provide time for the development of a new, lawful plan."
Donate to #SaveMaineLobstermen at: www.savemainelobstermen.org
For more than 25 years, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association has been leading the effort to keep right whales safe in the rare instance they encounter Maine lobster gear. MLA is Maine’s only statewide organization committed to the preservation of a sustainable lobster resource and the fishermen and communities that depend on it.
The MLA is engaged in a four-prong strategy to Save Maine Lobstermen AND right whales. Learn more here.
Reposted from Maine Lobster Festival
A snapshot of the “Perfect Storm” challenges facing the industry
Unless you’ve been closely following the news in Maine, you probably don’t realize that lobstering as an industry is getting assailed on all sides — and it is deeply and negatively impacting nearly 5,000 lobstermen and their families up and down the coast.
In early September, the environmental group Seafood Watch assigned a “red rating” designation, which discourages individuals and organizations from purchasing Maine and Canadian lobster. The group claims that lobster gear may be responsible for harming the endangered North Atlantic right whales.
This rating system has influenced retailers and food service providers since 1999. Since this designation, several national companies have stopped buying lobster for their products, which has negatively impacted lobstermen already having a rough summer with high fuel and bait prices, as well as low prices per catch.
This is on top of the National Marine Fisheries Service rule implementing new regulations under the federal government’s whale protection plan. The fishermen implemented the new regulations in 2022, but NMFS is in the process of developing additional regulations that will go into effect within the next two years. Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) sued NMFS, arguing that NFMS acted arbitrarily and that the plan doesn’t utilize an objective assessment of the best available data. They maintain that the plan will all but eliminate the lobster fishery, yet still fail to save the endangered whales. On Sept. 8, a federal judge rejected MLA’s lawsuit challenging the data, a ruling that MLA and the State appealed in federal court. MLA submitted a motion for expedited consideration of its appeal, which the federal court granted on Oct. 18.
FACT: There has not been a single known right whale entanglement in Maine lobster gear in almost 20 years.
FACT: Maine lobster gear has never been linked to a right whale death.
FACT: Maine lobstermen have been implementing whale conservation efforts for the last two decades, including modifying and developing innovative gear solutions — at their own expense.
In compliance with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) regulations, lobstermen have, “applied gear markings; implemented sinking ground lines; have moved to weaker lines; inserted ‘weak links’ into vertical lines; and increased the size of their trawls to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water. Through these efforts, the Maine lobster fishery has removed an estimated 30,000 miles of line from the water in order to protect whale species,” according to a statement by Maine Independent Senator Angus King.
For generations, lobstermen have committed to the long-term sustainability of the ocean and the fishery, and care deeply about the preservation of the right whale species. They know their territories like the back of their hands and use colored markings on their lines, so if a right whale ever became entangled, federal officials would know where it occurred.
Except it hasn’t. That’s the point Maine lobstermen like Scarborough lobsterman Greg Turner recently made in a WGME article: Maine lobster gear has never been linked to a right whale death.
“I’ve seen gear that they’ve retrieved from these whales,” Turner said. “And I’ve gone and looked at it. And none of it come from anything that we would use.” Turner pointed out what most lobstermen have been telling officials and at public hearings, “that most right whale deaths are from ship strikes and entanglements in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
According to a statement by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, “NMFS has overestimated the lobster industry’s risk to right whales by cherry-picking the science by using unsupported assumptions and ‘worst-case scenarios’ to justify its mandate for Maine’s lobster fishery to reduce its already minimal risk to right whales by 98 percent. MLA claims that NMFS also failed to follow mandatory legal requirements to assess the economic and social costs of their action.”
While the litigation is ongoing there are ways you, a private citizen, can help preserve this industry from a catastrophic shutdown.
How Can You Help
Columns and news about the subculture of Maine lobstering.