Maine has received more than $17 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to improve data on the North American Right Whale (NARW) that is used to set industry regulations, according to a press release published earlier in December.
This federal funding comes just months after the federal court of appeals ruled in favor of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) in their lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) — a subagency of NOAA — for adopting improperly-founded regulations against the industry.
In September of 2021, the MLA filed a lawsuit against the agency alleging that their efforts to protect the NARW were unlawful, as the regulations promulgated were founded upon a “simplistic and false premise” that “exaggerates and arbitrarily inflates the risk posed by the Maine lobster fishery.”
The MLA stated that the NOAA’s analyses was “unlawful” as they “did not rely on the best available scientific information, made erroneous and arbitrary assumptions unsupported and contradicted by data and evidence, relied on an outdated and flawed methodology to model projections of the North Atlantic right whale population, and inexplicably failed to account for either the positive impact of mitigation measures already or soon-to-be employed by the Maine lobster fishery.”
“As a direct result of MLA’s historic appeals court victory last June, NMFS must now go back to the drawing board to develop a new Whale Rule and Biological Opinion which can no longer be based on worst-case scenarios,” Patrice McCarron — policy director for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association — said in an official response to the newly-acquired federal funding.
“MLA appreciates the tenacity of the Governor and Maine’s congressional delegation who worked together to secure this important funding,” McCarron continued. “Maine DMR will now collect critical data to prove where right whales are, and, importantly, where they are not, so future regulations can put meaningful protections in place without causing unnecessary harm to the lobster industry.”
The $17,252,551 in federal funding was sourced from the “$26 million fund for states with lobster fisheries” established in December of last year by The Consolidated Appropriations Act and is administered by the federal Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
“Having better data on whale distribution in addition to gear location and configuration will vastly improve the ability of the federal government to focus their efforts on the areas of greatest risk” said Patrick Keliher — Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) — in a press release. “DMR’s approach is to not use assumptions, but rather the best available data so NOAA understands that the Maine lobster fishery is not the threat they make it out to be.”
“This will allow them to develop more targeted management measures, which will reduce the burden on this industry,” Commissioner Keliher said.
“Maine’s lobster industry has a long and proud tradition of responsible harvesting practices and good environmental stewardship, including significant investments by lobstermen to protect right whales,” said Gov. Janet Mills (D) in a press release. “These funds will ensure that federal regulators can no longer burden this vital industry with management decisions based on poor data that threaten the livelihoods of thousands of Mainers.
“I thank Maine’s Congressional Delegation for its work to secure this important funding,” she concluded.
“This federal funding is critical to improving the flawed and incomplete data that is being used to create unnecessary, burdensome requirements for Maine lobstermen and women,” Sen. Susan Collins in an official statement. “As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to continuing to advocate for this funding that supports the imperative work the Maine Department of Marine Resources is doing to support the future of Maine’s iconic lobster industry.”
“For 150 years, Maine’s lobster harvesters have demonstrated their commitment to maintaining and protecting a sustainable fishery in the Gulf of Maine,” Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) said in a statement. “This significant investment to improve right whale monitoring and data will help ease the unfair regulatory burden on lobstermen.”
“I am proud to work with my fellow members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation through my role on the House Appropriations Committee to ensure our heritage lobster industry has the federal support needed to sustain both the fishery and our marine environment,” Rep. Pingree concluded.
“For decades, the Maine lobster industry has been a global leader for environmental sustainability and stewardship,” Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said publicly. “We’ve seen the industry welcome innovative approaches to reduce the injury of right whales, often at cost to their bottom line and under the burden of heavy regulations.”
“These new funds will allow for additional research and provide clarity to ensure regulations are based on the best available scientific data and will support the Maine lobster fishery’s proactive, science-based practices,” Sen. King wrote.
“The regulations levied by federal agencies on our state’s historic fisheries have not lined up with the science,” said Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) in an official statement. “I’m glad to see that funding has been made available to put into hard numbers what our fishermen have been saying for years now: right whales are not being killed by Maine’s lobster fishery.”
According to the Maine DMR, the agency will “use the funds to improve data on NARW presence by conducting passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) at 26 sites throughout the Gulf of Maine (GOM).”
“These sites will be in addition to eight PAM moorings deployed since 2020 in collaboration with Northeast Fisheries Science Center and the University of Maine,” the official press release explained. “In addition, DMR will conduct surveys of NARWs in the GOM by boat and airplane, as well as surveys of the primary food source for NARWs, a species of zooplankton known as Calanus finmarchicus.”
There is currently a regulatory pause on Maine’s lobster industry that will remain in effect until December 31, 2028.