A group of Maine lobstermen have asked the United States District Court for the District of Maine to temporarily block state officials from enforcing the controversial requirement that lobstering boats be equipped with a 24-hour location monitoring system.
At the beginning of January, five Maine lobstermen filed a lawsuit against the Maine Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) Commissioner Patrick Keliher, alleging violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
A new set of rules that went into effect this past December require all federally permitted lobster boats to be equipped with a 24-hour electronic location monitoring system.
These mandated devices — provided by the MDMR — identify a vessel’s location every sixty seconds while in motion and once every six hours when stationary. Using one of these devices, a boat’s position is able to be accurately determined within 100 meters, or 328.1 feet.
The lobstermen filed their lawsuit on January 2, 2024, challenging the rule, which took effect two weeks prior on December 15, 2023.
Shortly thereafter — on January 12, 2024 — these lobstermen filed a motion requesting that the District Court bar the MDMR from enforcing the mandate requiring the installation of these devices pending the resolution of their case.
“Before the Court is an unprecedented regulation that, if permitted to stand, would require federally permitted Maine lobster fishermen to install a tracking device on their fishing vessels that would monitor their movements on a minute-by-minute basis (and every six hours when the vessel is moored) ‘regardless of landing state, trip type, location fished or target species,'” the motion reads.
“Now, without adequate explanation,” the filing continues, “Maine lobster fishermen suddenly are subject to limitless data collection through a rule that is a veritable intelligence free-for-all for government agencies and law enforcement to use in support of whatever purpose they fancy.”
In order for an injunction to be granted, a party must be able to demonstrate — among other things — that the absence of an injunction would result in irreparable harm.
“It is hard to imagine a more fundamental genre of irreparable harm,” the motion argued, “than an administrative rule, promulgated without legislative oversight, that subjects individuals to around the clock surveillance as a condition of their ability to engage in their chosen vocation.”
“In the end, the MDMR Rule is a drastic overreach,” the motion concludes. “While Maine lobstermen have and will continue to make every effort to conserve their fishery and protect the endangered species that inhabit it, dynamic management of the fishery’s resources cannot come at the expense of its participants’ constitutional rights.”
MDMR Commissioner Keliher issued a statement earlier this month in response to the lobstermen’s initial filing, suggesting that their claim has “no merit” and that their opposition to the rule is counterproductive.
“It’s ironic that a few members of an industry which has voiced a strong opinion that Maine needs to do more to protect this fishery are now resisting efforts to gather the data necessary to help defend their interests in the long run,” said Keliher.
“I believe their arguments have no merit,” Keliher said. “Data from the trackers is a critical component of the Atlantic states’ effort to ensure that the lobster industry is not burdened with management decisions based on assumptions derived from insufficient data.”
It remains to be seen how the United States District Court will rule on the lobstermen’s motion for an injunction against the MDMR.