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December 21, 2022

“An Economic Death Sentence” Averted, King Champions Provision To Pause Lobster Gear Regulations on Senate Floor

Maine’s Congressional Delegation and Governor Mills secured a regulatory pause for the Maine lobster fishery in the omnibus appropriations bill that is expected to pass this week

Watch Senator King’s full floor speech HERE and download broadcast quality HERE.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King today delivered remarks from the Senate Floor on the importance of Maine’s lobster fishery to the state’s communities and the devastating implications that proposed lobster gear regulations would have on thousands of Maine families and small businesses. In his speech, King lays out the lack of evidence backing the arbitrary regulations and explains how the six-year regulatory pause secured by Maine Congressional Delegation and Governor Mills in the annual omnibus spending bill will avert an “economic death sentence” for the state.

Earlier today, the Maine Congressional Delegation and Governor Mills released a joint statement HERE announcing the successful inclusion of the regulatory pause into the annual spending bill. The bill is expected to be passed and signed into law later this week.

King began his remarks by laying out the serious crisis facing the Maine lobstering community and the state’s economy.

“My state is facing its most serious crisis, in my view, in my 18 years of public service on behalf of Maine. There is a provision in the bill that we'll be voting on tomorrow that is of vital, critical importance to Maine and I believe the country,” began Senator King. “In November, a federal court here in Washington issued a ruling under the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts that effectively shuts down the entire Maine lobster fishery in two years. It issues requirements that simply can't be met in that time frame. The only choice will be to shut down the fishery.”

“What does that mean? What is the fishery? What is the lobster industry? The lobster industry is this guy right here – thousands of small, independent businesses. These boats aren't owned by Amazon or Walmart or Whole Foods. They're owned by individual people, families, generations in a town like this. That's what we're talking about. We're talking about the livelihoods of thousands of Maine people that will be cut off by virtue of this decision within two years.

“Is it a real threat? People are already canceling orders for boat. The business of the people that make lobster traps is down 25% or 30%. People are starting to put their boat on the market because they see this closure coming of an industry that's been a mainstay of the Maine economy for 150 years,” explained Senator King. “Well over a billion and a half dollars a year is based upon this unique, iconic product that comes from the cold waters of Maine.”

Continuing his remarks, King explains how the crisis is based on faulty premises that ignores the data in Maine waters.

“This decision of the court that effectively closes our lobster industry down is based upon the idea of protecting the North Atlantic right whale – which needs protection, it is indeed an endangered species. The question is whether the remedy, in this case the closure of the Maine fishery, will actually help in the preservation of the right whale,” continued Senator King.

“I want to start with a couple of data points. Here's the first. This is the number of right whale deaths ever attributed to Maine lobster gear: zero. Here's another data point. The number of right whales even being entangled in Maine lobster gear in almost the last 20 years: zero,” Senator King exclaimed. “So the question is, is there sufficient evidence for this draconian remedy, the shutdown of the entire industry?”

“The other data point is that according to the maps of whale sightings based upon data from the Department of Commerce and NOAA, the whales are moving away from Maine.”

King continues by highlighting the lack of evidence on which the “economic death sentence” is based.

“So we're talking about an economic death sentence for an entire way of life, for the town of Stonington, for the thousands and I mean between 5,000 and 10,000 people who work on the water and thousands more that work in processing and involved in this industry, over a billion and a half dollars a year of economic impact in the state of Maine. 

“If you were in court and you said we're going to impose an economic death sentence, well, here's the way the law looks at things like that. If it's a criminal case to take away somebody's liberty beyond a reasonable doubt. No beyond a reasonable doubt in this case. It's not even close to beyond a reasonable doubt,” emphasized Senator King. “In a civil case you have to prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence. Is there a preponderance of evidence that fishery is contributing to the loss of right whales? No, there's no preponderance of evidence. How about any evidence? Zero. Zero.”

King goes on to explain how the provision authored by the Maine Delegation and Governor Mills will support the Maine lobster industry.

“Now, a solution to this crisis is in the bill that we'll be voting on tomorrow. It's one that the Maine Delegation, myself and Senator Collins, Congresswoman Pingree, Congressman Golden have been working on since this decision,” Senator King continued. “What it is a compromise that's been negotiated between the various people interested in this issue in this body.”

“Importantly, it provides funding for two purposes. One is the development of gear that will reduce the risk even further,” explained Senator King. “The other funding is for data to know where the whales are. To know because the problem is, would data we have indicates there are practically none along the Maine coast. But we don't know that for sure.” 

“The third thing it does is pause the economic death sentence. It pauses the ruling that says this has to be finished in two years because that means the industry, the lobster fishing, the lobster families, the lobster towns are finished within two years. We're talking about a six-year pause as time to collect the data and develop the gear,” concluded King. “So what we're doing, what we compromise was a six-year period that will give us time to develop the technology and to develop the data and we may find that there are different solutions or that the data may show no additional restrictions beyond what is already being done are necessary.”

Concluding his remarks, King emphasizes that this is not a choice between conservation and the lobster industry, and that the bill will protect both in a sensible way.

“We don't have to choose between lobsters and whales. We don't have to choose between the men and women of Stonington or Cutler or Corea or Georgetown or Freeport or Cape Elizabeth and whales. We just have to be sensible about approaching this in a way that will protect the whales but also protect the way of life of these wonderful people. 

“That's why I'm here tonight. That's what we've done in this bill. It is in no way a diminution of the standards of the Endangered Species Act or the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It merely pauses that economic death sentence until we have time to know how to navigate the solution and what the real definition of the problem is,” concluded Senator King. “To me, that's good policy. It's what we should do here on all the complicated issues we face.”

Senator King has strenuously opposed undue burdens that would threaten the lobster fishery without meaningfully protecting whales. Following the release of NOAA’s final Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan in late August 2021, the Maine Delegation and Governor Mills issued a statement in opposition to the rule and highlighting the Maine lobster fishery’s record of repeatedly making significant improvements to their practices and modifications to their gear to protect right whales. He has also backed legislation that would offset costs of the proposed regulations and worked to secure $17.1 million in funding for the industry. King has also pushed back on the unsubstantiated and speculative decision by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch to place Maine lobster on their seafood “Red List,” and introduced a bill that would prohibit federal taxpayer funds from going to the organization.

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