Regulations

Maine lobster industry rocked by new, unworkable federal regulations

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New federal regulations created to protect the endangered right whale will close off a nearly 1,000 square mile strip in the Gulf of Maine to lobstering during the region’s most lucrative season, from October through January.

According to the Press Herald, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) earlier this week set new rules for the New England lobster fishery intended to reduce the risk of the endangered whale species becoming tangled in fishing equipment. The new standards allow lobstermen to string more traps on a single line to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water, but also require them to use weaker ropes in addition to the seasonal prohibition.

The map below, shared on Twitter by Maine Public’s Fred Bever, shows the area impacted by the new rule. Bever also said on Twitter that federal officials say about 52 vessels will be affected by the closure.

Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a lobsterman himself, joined the WGAN Morning News on Wednesday to share his thoughts on NOAA’s decision.

“I was contacted yesterday by someone from the media to ask me about the closure, and that was the first I heard of a closure because a closure wasn’t even on the table for us. It wasn’t even supposed to be thought of and then, all of a sudden, Joe Biden just decided he needed to close a big area of ocean. It came as a surprise to everybody. It came as a surprise to the fishermen, it came as a surprise to everybody in the state of Maine, every politician. No one saw this 950 square mile closure coming,” Rep. Faulkingham said.

The entirety of Maine’s Congressional Delegation joined Gov. Janet Mills in a statement opposing the new rule and pledging to work together to fight it. Gov. Mills also sent an open letter to the lobster industry that praised the work they’ve done in the past to protect right whales and other species, noting that recent right whale deaths have not occurred in Maine waters and cannot be attributed to Maine’s lobster fishery.

“As members of the lobster industry, you have repeatedly made sacrifices by changing the way you fish and by modifying your gear to protect right whales, including implementing weak link mandates in 1997 and again in 2007. In nearly two decades, there has not been a single known right whale entanglement attributed to the Maine lobster fishery. It is entirely unfair that Maine lobstermen and women continue to be the primary target of burdensome regulations, despite the many effective mitigation measures you have taken and despite the data showing that ship strikes and Canadian fishing gear continue to pose significant risk to right whales,” Mills said in the letter.

As noted by the Press Herald, the regulations announced this week are expected to be followed by additional action in the future as federal agencies aim to reduce the risk to the North Atlantic right whale by 98 percent.

Unfortunately, it is Maine’s crucial lobster industry – which is largely not responsible for right whale deaths and entanglements in recent decades – that will suffer from these unworkable new rules.

Isn’t it gross when unelected bureaucrats hundreds of miles away in Washington can upend the lives and livelihoods of dozens of hardworking Maine families overnight, without notice and without a vote of the people’s representatives?

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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