Judge rules lobstering can continue in spite of whale issues, as Maine lobstermen wait for trade aid

A federal judge has ruled American lobster fishermen can continue fishing in the wake of a decision in April that found they are in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the judge decided not to ban fishing in a large right whale feeding ground south of Nantucket, but did warn federal regulators that they must meet a May 2021 deadline to create new rules to prevent North Atlantic right whale entanglements. The right whale, one of the most endangered mammals on the planet, was the reason for the earlier decision that found the fishery violates the Endangered Species Act, which ultimately resulted in the Marine Stewardship Council suspending the fishery’s certification.

The environmental groups suing the National Marine Fisheries Service welcomed the news.

"This order puts an end to that inaction, demanding that the government implement new protections that will help the right whale come back from the brink of extinction," attorney Jane Davenport of Defenders of Wildlife told the Press Herald.

The news came at the same time as questions arose surrounding an executive order U.S. President Donald Trump signed in June that asked the United States Trade Representative to keep close track of the progress made in China over a Phase One trade deal the president signed in January. The U.S. lobster industry has been hit hard by the ongoing trade war initiated by Trump in 2018.

That order also tasked the U.S. Department of Agriculture with setting up an aid program similar to one used for Midwestern farmers, granting the lobster industry assistance, including “to the extent permitted by applicable law, the United States lobster industry and other segments of the United States seafood industry in any future assistance provided to mitigate the effects of China’s retaliatory trade practices."

That stipulation had a 60-day time limit, and according to Maine’s congressional delegation, little has been done since the order. The deadline for action is on Monday.

“Neither I nor my staff have received an update on USDA’s plans to provide direct relief to the lobster industry,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in July.

More recently, the congressional delegation wrote another letter detailing the USDA’s lack of action.

“This 60-day period is now drawing to a close, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has yet to take any further action,” the delegation wrote. “We urge you to keep the President’s promise and immediately assist the thousands of Mainers whose livelihoods depend on this critical industry.” 

Photo courtesy of Dan Logan/Shutterstock


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