Maine lobstermen sue over monitoring laws

Maine lobster fishing boats in a harbor.

Five Maine lobstermen have filed a lawsuit against the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) over recently enacted rules requiring all Maine lobstermen with federal lobster fishing permits to install 24-hour electronic tracking devices on their vessels.

The rule went into force on 15 December and stems from a higher-level decision made by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) calling for individual state departments to create rules establishing around-the-clock tracking requirements on both American lobster fishing vessels and Jonah crab fishing vessels. One of the main stated goals of the plan is to help reduce the risk of lobster gear entangling critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The five lobstermen – Frank Thompson, Joel Strout, Jason Lord, Christopher Smith, and Jack Cunningham – allege that the new rules violate both the fourth and 14th amendments of the U.S. constitution.

“The Plaintiffs contend that minute-by-minute surveillance of Maine’s federally licensed lobster fleet is unconstitutional, unwarranted, and unfair to Maine lobstermen, who have proven through the actions of generations of lobstering families that they are good stewards of the ocean ecosystems essential to their livelihoods,” a release from attorneys Thimi Mini and Alfred Frawley, who are representing the fishermen, said.

The lawsuit also claimed the data is being collected for purposes related to supporting industries other than lobster fishing. In the ASMFC’s addendum that created the new requirements, one of the purposes of the data was to “support the development of offshore renewable energy,” according to the lawsuit.

“The Plaintiffs further contend that the collection of such information, without any assurance that it will remain protected from further dissemination, including for the benefit of other ‘offshore’ industry interests unrelated to lobster fishing, is improper and a manifest violation of their constitutionally protected privacy rights,” the release said.

Maine DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said the lawsuit is counterproductive for an industry...

Photo courtesy of mark stephens photography

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