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December 20, 2019

Maine Delegation Calls on Secretary Ross to Protect Maine Lobster Industry from Unfair Right Whale Conservation Measures

Washington, D.C.—In a continuation of their strong, bipartisan advocacy for fair treatment of Maine’s lobster industry, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, urging him to take action to protect Maine’s lobster industry from unfairly burdensome regulations as the U.S. seeks to protect the right whale population.

“The Maine lobster fishery has repeatedly made significant improvements to their practices and modifications to their gear to protect right whales, including the implementation of weak link mandates in 1997 and again in 2007,” Senators Collins and King and Representatives Pingree and Golden wrote.  “Notably, there have been no entanglements directly attributed to Maine lobster gear in more than 15 years. Further, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) data demonstrates that ropes removed from right whales in recent years are not typical of those used in Maine’s lobster fishery.”

“This past summer, alone, eight mortalities were observed in the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence, representing the deaths of roughly two percent of the remaining population,” the Maine Delegation continued.  “It has been incredibly frustrating for Maine lobstermen to see that, after implementing multiple effective mitigation measures over the past two decades, they continue to be the primary target of NOAA’s burdensome regulations. NOAA’s own data identify a number of other sources that contribute to North Atlantic right whale entanglements and serious injury and morality, including ship strikes and Canadian snow crab gear, the latter of which has entangled and killed at least 14 North Atlantic right whales.”

The Maine Delegation listed a number of policies the Commerce Department should pursue that would protect right whales while factoring in the true risk posed by various marine industries, including:

  • Resolving the territorial dispute of the “Gray Zone” surrounding Machias Seal Island to eliminate confusing, contrasting fishing regulations;
  • Evaluating whether a potential emergency rulemaking is warranted to ban Canadian snow crab fisheries from exporting fish to the U.S. under the Marine Mammal Protection Act due to evidence that their industry is a chief contributor to right whale entanglements and mortalities;
  • Addressing ship strikes, which play a substantial role in the right whale population’s decline;
  • Reconsidering “trawling up” requirements that set minimums on the number of traps per buoy line, which creates increased risk to crewmembers of loss of life or limb
  • Incorporating feedback from Maine lobstermen to address their serious safety concerns associated with the proposed placement of weak links in the endlines, which in their current proposed form would result in weak links routinely being stressed to or beyond their breaking points during typical fishing activity.

“As NMFS endeavors to protect this unique marine species, we must do so without endangering human lives or livelihoods,” the Maine delegation concluded.  “We look forward to your response and to working with you to implement right whale conservation measures that are effective and that do not unfairly burden the Maine lobster fishery.”

Click HERE to read the Maine Delegation’s letter.

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