Maine plans to intervene in lawsuit over new lobstering regulations

Published on
September 16, 2021
A Maine lobsterman unloads his catch.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources plans to get involved with a lawsuit over new lobstering regulations intended to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale – regulations that will impact the state’s lucrative lobster fishery.

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher told lawmakers in the U.S. state during a hearing on 14 September that the department plans to intervene in an existing lawsuit that environmental groups brought against the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the new rules, according to the Portland Press Herald. Keliher told lawmakers that the department has hired an attorney and that Maine Governor Janet Mills has committed the state to covering all legal fees.

Keliher had already pledged in a letter to the industry that he and the department planned to do whatever it could to help the state’s lobstermen with new regulations that the NMFS implemented. Those regulations include the closure of 967 square miles of fishing grounds off the state’s coast, requirements for varied gear markings in different waters, and more.

“NOAA ultimately implemented a gear-marking scheme that is significantly different than what was in the proposed rule,” Keliher said in his letter. “This change will not only compound the economic burden on fishermen who previously modified their gear, it also undermines the trust necessary for fishermen to engage in the rulemaking process, and means Maine will think twice about being proactive when it comes to federal rules.”

The state had previously been advocating for gear markings that would have put a smaller financial burden on fishermen, but ended up with regulations that would force many fishermen who fish in multiple areas to essentially buy multiple sets of the same gear – greatly increasing the cost of fishing.

“I'm also concerned about the basis for the LMA 1 area closure, which relies on model outputs that lack significant corroborating acoustic or sightings data. In addition, the model's analysis clearly shows a decline in risk over time within the LMA 1 Restricted Area, which indicates that the benefit to right whales provided by the LMA 1 Restricted Area has decreased over time,” Keliher said. “An adaptive approach based on continued monitoring would make more sense and have less impact on fishermen.”

Keliher said the state will support its fishermen against regulations it seems unfair to them.

“This process is far from over, and with the support of the governor we will work directly with Maine's congressional delegation to find relief from the burdensome rules and hold NOAA accountable for the science that is used,” Keliher said. “I'll continue to work hard to ensure that federal regulators make use of the best available science and don't lose sight of the valuable input from Maine lobstermen as this process continues to unfold.”  

Photo courtesy of Sandi Cullifer/Shutterstock 

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