Maine’s governor outlines “grave” concerns regarding right whale lobster measures

U.S. State of Maine Governor Janet Mills has written a letter to NOAA Fisheries outlining “grave concern” over the latest Biological Opinion that has been drafted for 10 fishery management plans in the Greater Atlantic Region – including the state’s lucrative lobster industry.

Mills, in a letter to NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator Michael Pentony, said the framework could have drastic consequences for the state’s lobster industry, which was a USD 485 million (EUR 399 million) industry in 2019 and is by far Maine's most valuable fishery. The framework is being established in order to increase protection for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The fishery has been under threat of a potential closure after a federal judge ruled in 2020 that the fishery is violating the Endangered Species Act due to its potential interactions with the endangered whales. The draft Biological Opinion includes a framework that requires for a 98 percent risk reduction towards whales over 10 years in U.S. fixed gear fisheries.

Mills said in her letter that the requirement would have drastic consequences.

“In the absence of significant change, this framework will necessitate the complete reinvention of the Maine lobster fishery as we know it,” Mills wrote. “The state of Maine is adamant that our federal government must take aggressive action to remedy the inequities of this framework in the years ahead.”

Maine’s lobster industry represents an overall economic impact of over USD 1 billion (EUR 822 million) to the state, and is a significant source of income for many of the state’s rural communities.

“As you know, Maine’s rural coastal counties are heavily reliant on the lobster fishery,” Mills wrote. “The conservation framework’s risk reduction target leaves little opportunity for the fishery to continue to operate as it has for generations. It is hard for my administration and the industry to imagine how these targets could not be achieved without a conversion to ropeless fishing – a still highly untested technology which raises more questions than answers.”

The future of not just fishermen, but the many supporting industries surrounding the fishermen, would be uncertain if the current Biological Framework comes to fruition, Mills wrote.

“Gear suppliers, trap builders, rope manufacturers – all those businesses face a deeply uncertain future as a result of the proposed 98 percent risk reduction over the coming decade,” Mills wrote.

She added that the fishery has been worming with the Maine Department of Marine Resources for over two decades to develop and implement measures to protect right whales, and have been active on the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team.

“It is imperative that the state be involved more directly with NOAA Fisheries’ work with Canadian counterparts, as well as in addressing the many challenges associated with the adoption of new technologies such as ropeless fishing gear,” Mills wrote.   

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia


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