Republican lawmakers introduced a plan Tuesday to change Maine tax law to punish any business that opts to boycott the sale of the Maine lobster based on 3rd party certifications.
Although the proposal would apply to any seafood dealer in Maine, and any 3rd party, in reality it’s a bill that will target Whole Foods over the company’s decision to boycott Maine lobster based on the view of the London-based Marine Stewardship Council, which decertified the Maine lobster last month.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart (R-Aroostook) and House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor), would block businesses from benefiting from the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement (BETR) and Business Equipment Tax Exemption (BETE) programs if they ban or boycott the sale of Maine lobster.
Both BETR and BETE are property tax exemptions. According to city of Portland tax documents, the Whole Foods location at 2 Somerset St. was assessed property taxes worth $36,890.95 in 2022.
The bill would also block the State from contracting with any businesses that have joined anti-lobster boycotts.
“This is a war. It is not just about lobster fishing – it is a war on workers, family values, conservation, science and common sense,” said Faulkingham, a life-long lobsterman.
“It is going to take all of us standing together combined with many others throughout Maine to preserve the ability of lobster fishing families to earn a living, conserve the resource, and create jobs for thousands of Mainers,” he said.
Whole Foods representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier in the year, Seafood Watch, a left-wing non-profit, also gave derogatory marks to the Maine lobster, adding it to the organization’s so-called “Red List.” But the Marine Stewardship Council is the more influential environmental group and the one Whole Foods uses to ensure that its offerings live up to environmentalists’ expectations.
Stewart said Maine Republicans planned to work with other New England states to investigate the potential ulterior motives behind the non-profit groups’ actions.
“We will also be asking the Attorney General to investigate the Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch to see who they are funded by, what foreign governments are involved in their groups and what benefits result from their partners by singling-out Maine’s lobster industry,” said Stewart.
“This group makes almost 90% of their funding by selling their logo and we’d like to know what, if any, impact their decision had on their funding streams,” he said.
The activists’ arrows are just part of the outside attacks working against Maine lobstermen.
For most of the year, Maine has been locked in a battle over regulations the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wants to impost on Maine lobstering equipment.
NOAA claims the regulation is intended to prevent deaths of the endangered right whale, but there has never been a right whale death attributed to Maine lobster gear. The last right whale entangled in Maine lobster gear survived.
For some lobstermen, the multiple prong attack on the industry appears coordinated rather than coincidental, and many believe a federal bureaucrat named Monica P. Medina is playing a behind-the-scenes role in pushing federal regulation and non-profit criticism of the industry.
Medina currently serves as the Assistant Secretary for Ocean, Environment and Science at the State Department. But she’s also the wife of President Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain.
Klain is arguably the most powerful presidential chief of staff in modern history, and many Maine lobstermen think his role in the White House provides Medina with extra sway over environmental policy.
Before Medina joined the Biden administration, her previous work included running Our Daily Planet, an email newsletter for environmentalists. Before that, however, she was the director of the Pew Whale Conservation Project.
If Medina was bringing her environmentalist zealotry into the White House, then that might help explain why NOAA has adamantly refused to backdown from regulations that would gut the Maine lobstering industry — even though the regulations lack any scientific basis and have been rebuked by a bipartisan delegation of Maine lawmakers.
Medina did not respond to questions submitted to her by email. The Maine Wire has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department seeking records related to Medina’s work on whale conservation for the federal government.
This is not the first time Maine lawmakers have threatened to change tax policy over behavior of private businesses they find objectionable.
In January of 2020, then-House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Portland) and Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) threatened to amend a tax credit the Legislature had extended to Bath Iron Works.
Jackson and Gideon made the threat over their perception that BIW was not paying its union workers well enough.
Later that year, as reported exclusively by The Maine Wire, Jackson also threatened to change tax credits that benefitted potato processor Penobscot McCrum in order to get the owner’s wife, Sue McCrum, to end her campaign for a State Senate race.