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September 18, 2019

Maine Delegation Calls for Effective, Evidence-based Measures to Protect Right Whales and Maine Lobstermen

Delegation calls for additional gear markings, new data collection, and a regulatory exemption for lobstermen operating in shallower waters

WASHINGTON — Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME), Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01), and Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) made recommendations to federal fisheries officials late Tuesday for changes to proposed regulations on the Maine lobster industry. The Maine delegation suggested reasonable measures to help reduce right whale fatalities without threatening the safety and livelihoods of thousands of Mainers working in the lobster industry. 

“Over the last several months, we have had a number of conversations with lobstermen, the scientific community, environmentalists, and state regulators,” said the Members of Congress. “The message has been undeniably clear: these whales require increased protections in order to ensure the viability of the species — and that focusing all of our risk reduction efforts on Maine’s lobster fishery will not get us there.”

The delegation’s letter came in response to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) public scoping meetings and call for input to develop modifications to the proposed regulations developed by NOAA’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (TRT).

“Maine lobstermen have said clearly that they stand ready to take reasonable measures to help protect right whales and reduce entanglements, including additional, Maine-specific gear markings and improved monitoring,” continued the lawmakers. “We also support Maine Department of Marine Resources’ proposal to preserve the current regulatory exemptions line and the state’s willingness to implement its own measures in those waters to improve data collection.”

In their letter, Collins, King, Pingree, and Golden noted the substantial steps Maine’s lobster industry has already undertaken to protect right whales and reduce the risk of entanglements. Those actions include the adoption of weak links in rope in 1997, gear marking in 2002, the use of sinking ground lines in 2009, and vertical line reductions in 2014. There have been no entanglements directly attributed to Maine gear in nearly 15 years.

“Our lobstermen have a long track record of conservation and are committed to the survival of right whales, we just want to take steps that we know will work. As proposed, NOAA’s regulations will have a long-lasting negative effect on the lobster industry and put the lobstermen’s safety at risk but won’t help right whales survive. That’s why we support the reasonable changes suggested by Maine’s congressional delegation in their letter to NOAA. Maine’s federal lawmakers continue to go to bat for Maine lobstermen, sound science, and data-driven policymaking.” – David T. Sullivan, Grand Lodge Representative, International Association of Machinists, Maine Lobstering Union, Local 207 

“The Maine lobster industry has shown time and again that we understand the threats the right whales face as a species and that we want to help the whales recover. Lobstermen need to know the actions we take to protect right whales are effective, data-driven, and reflective of the actual risk our industry poses to the species. Maine’s Congressional delegation understands. I applaud them for standing up for lobstermen and proposing common-sense, pragmatic modifications in their scoping letter to NOAA.” – Patrice McCarron, Executive Director, Maine Lobstermen’s Association

In July, the lawmakers applauded Governor Mills’ decision to direct the Maine Department of Marine Resources to evaluate a risk reduction target for Maine that is commensurate to any actual risk posed by the lobster industry— not the 60 percent risk reduction target assigned by the TRT. Last month, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association withdrew its support for the proposed risk reduction target, citing “substantive errors” and omissions in important NOAA data, among other concerns.

For months, the Maine delegation has been working closely with lobstermen, the lobster industry, federal regulators, and coastal communities to point out the lack of data and other deficiencies underpinning NOAA’s proposed regulations. 

Read a signed copy of the letter here.

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