When a senior congressman from a land-locked state in the American West drops a bill pertaining to the Atlantic right whale out of the blue, it just seems fishy.
But that is exactly what happened when Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-NM) introduced a bill for the sole purpose of undoing the six-year pause on enforcement of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) rules that Maine’s congressional delegation had wrestled out of budget negotiations late last year.
Grijalva’s “Rescue Whales Act” responds to the “existential harm” that six-year pause threatens, the statement his office issued at the time said.
Why? Grijalva doesn’t boast about the bill he sponsored earlier this week on his website or in the local Arizona press, which suggests he’s not appealing to constituents’ interests. The first public coverage of his bill was on news feeds of environmental groups over the past weekend.
A long-time progressive, Grijalva until recently chaired the House Committee on Natural Resources, where he welcomed the testimony of Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. Home to Seafood Watch, the group that “red-listed” Maine lobster last year, Packard’s Monterey Bay Aquarium has made fast enemies in the Pine Tree State.
After returning a $666 contribution to Packard last year, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) introduced a bill to strip the aquarium of federal money in retaliation for its claim that Maine’s lobster fishery isn’t sustainable.
The full extent of Packard’s relationship with Grijalva remains unclear, though records indicate she and/or her organization frequently lobbied him on policy issues. During the Clinton administration, Grijalva had unsuccessfully sought the Secretary of Interior’s job. In the Trump administration, he took aim at then Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, demanding his resignation.
Zinke responded by tweet, saying that it “must be hard for [Grijalva] to think straight from the bottom on a bottle,” and going on to recount how Grijalva settled a complaint from a former staffer who’d accused him of inappropriate behavior with a $50,000 settlement in public money.
At least one Maine lobsterman joined Zinke in questioning the congressman’s judgement.
“I would question the sponsor of that bill about the 23 whale deaths in the mid-Atlantic region over the last three months, and whether he is going to include a halt on offshore wind planning too,” Jason Joyce, a lobsterman from Swan’s Island told The Maine Wire.
“His bill is focused on the wrong target,” said.
Maine’s Congressional delegation said on Tuesday they’d oppose Grijalva’s bill. In a Republican-led House, it should face real challenges but still bears careful monitoring.
Jason T. Johnson, communications advisor for Grijalva and the House Natural Resources Democrats, touted ropeless gear in a written statement.
“There are real solutions, like ropeless gear, that can protect right whales without negatively impacting catch numbers,” Johnson said.
“Rep. Grijalva championed the passage of $20 million in funding in the FY 2023 omnibus to help transition the lobster fishing industry to ropeless gear,” he said.
“That’s the kind of answer I’d expect from someone who’s never hauled a trap,” Joyce said.