Maine mulling legal defense fund for lobster industry
A legislative committee in the U.S. state of Maine has reversed itself on the establishment of a bill to provide financial support to Maine’s lobster industry for court battles against federal rules intended to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale, ultimately deciding to unanimously move the bill forward.
Federal rules established by NOAA in 2021 have drawn criticism from the lobster industry, which launched a lawsuit challenging the rules. The new rules include fishing bans in certain areas and gear requirements mandating less-harmful vertical lines.
The Maine Legislature’s Committee on Marine Resources initially voted against the idea in February, according to the Associated Press, but then reversed course in on 2 March and voted unanimously in favor of putting the bill to the legislature, the Portland Press Herald reported. The fund would provide about USD 900,000 (EUR 823,000) annually to the industry.
The initial bill, presented by William Faulkingham, a state representative and lobsterman, was resubmitted and unanimously approved after a number of amendments.
"I'm extremely happy. It's a big compromise, but that is what legislation is all about," Faulkingham told the Press Herald.
Maine’s lobster fishery achieved a record value in 2021, pulling in USD 724.9 million (EUR 663 million) in the year. That record-shattering year has been tempered by a May deadline for fishermen to replace their gear – even as those new gear types are scarce enough that Maine’s entire congressional delegation sent a letter calling for a delay to the requirements.
“[Lobstermen] are encountering ... a scarcity of the very materials they need to comply, including manufactured weak links and special weak rope,” the letter said. “The installation of manufactured weak links into end-lines is an option that many boats are planning to utilize, but with a current production rate of only 3,000 links per week by the sole NMFS-approved manufacturer (Seaside Rope), there is a significant shortfall in supply.”
Maine Lobstermen’s Association Executive Director Patrice McCarron said the new requirements, coupled with other challenges, are threatening to end the fishery “within the next decade.”
“One challenge is the 10-year whale plan that is based on flawed data and bad science. It will cost at least USD 45 million [EUR 41 million] for lobstermen to comply with gear modifications, rope configurations, and markings that the federal government is requiring under this burdensome plan,” McCarron said. “Maine lobstermen have a long history of complying with federal regulations, but this most-recent rule seriously places one of our nation’s most sustainable commercial fisheries and Maine’s centuries old lobstering heritage at risk.”
Meanwhile, prices for lobster remain high due to low supply.
“The supply is very low, [because] not many boats in Maine are fishing this winter — due to weather and a good season last year,” Taylor Lobster Company Owner Bret Taylor told National Fisherman. Fishermen who had great seasons on high boat prices are taking a break during the winter, he said.
“So we are seeing some extremely high prices now. Prices to the boat will hit USD 10.00 [EUR 9.14] this week,” Taylor said.
Photo courtesy of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative