The number of state legislators who have signed a letter calling for President Biden to reverse a recent decision that would close the nearly 1,000 square mile Lobster Management Area 1 (LMA 1) Seasonal Restricted Area in the Gulf of Maine from October through January is growing.
The bipartisan group of 151 state lawmakers who have signed the letter, which calls on “applicable agencies” to re-engage with the state’s agencies and stakeholders to find another path forward, includes the minority and majority leadership from both legislative chambers.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the seasonal closure of the LMA 1 area on August 30, as well as new standards that attempt to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water by allowing lobstermen to string more traps on a single line. However, they will also be required to use weaker ropes.
The new regulations are designed to protect right whales, which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and can become entangled in fishing equipment and die. According to NOAA, entanglement is one of two leading causes of death and injury for right whales.
Following NOAA’s announcement of the new rules, Gov. Janet Mills and Maine’s federal congressional delegation issued a joint statement objecting to the changes.
“The Maine lobster fishery has repeatedly made significant improvements to their practices and modifications to their gear to protect right whales, including the implementation of weak link mandates in 1997 and again in 2007. Notably, there has not been a single right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster fisheries in nearly two decades,” Mills and the state’s congressional delegation said in the statement.
They also noted that Maine has regularly worked with the state’s lobster fishermen, including the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Maine Lobstering Union, to ensure state regulations protect wildlife but also do not place undue burdens upon fishermen.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association listed three overarching concerns to the final rule, which it says did not incorporate any of the requests made from a meeting they held with the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in July.
Those concerns are that the size of the LMA 1 restricted area is larger than it needs to be, that the changes made to gear requirements will likely require a second set of equipment to fish legally, and that the final rule lacks flexibility for lobstermen to propose “equally protective yet less costly” solutions.
The rule is expected to directly impact 60 fishermen who fish in waters with new restrictions, as well as another 60 who may be impacted by relocation. Federal officials also estimate the new rules will cost fishermen between 5% and 10% of their annual revenue.
The association also noted that, according to data from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), there are no documented cases of right whale entanglement in Maine’s lobster fishery in over 17 years. Nor has Maine’s lobster fishery ever been known to kill or seriously injure a right whale.
The letter state legislators sent to Biden, which was initiated by lobster fisherman Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor), also makes note of these statistics.
It further mentions that statistics published from the Biological Opinion of NMFS’ Conservation Framework relating to right whales and Maine’s lobster fishery show 31% of serious injuries which right whales sustained from entanglement between 2016 and 2019 occurred in Canada, while none were attributed to U.S. fisheries.
From these statistics, and several others, the letter alleges that NOAA’s actions are “not grounded in sound science” and will not only lead to the near elimination of Maine’s lobster industry, but will not reverse the decline of the right whale.
According to the letter, closure of the LMA 1 waters is also the only closure in NOAA’s rule not based on documented whale sightings.
“Your Administration’s data clearly shows that the right whale population cannot successfully rebuild without a conservation plan supported by scientific evidence and comparable measures implemented in Canada and the U.S. shipping industry,” the letter reads.