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October 07, 2022

Maine Delegation, Governor Call on NOAA to Hold Additional Scoping Meetings for Lobstermen in Downeast Maine

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME), Representatives Jared Golden (ME-02), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), and Governor Janet Mills sent a letter today to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) urging them to hold at least one additional in-person scoping hearing in Downeast Maine as the agency initiates Phase 2 of its heavily criticized Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP) and corresponding regulations. The letter was sent following Wednesday evening’s widely attended public scoping meeting held by NOAA in Portland to gather community input to develop modifications to the ALWTRP.

“As we have previously expressed to you, if implemented, the 90 percent risk reduction target NOAA Fisheries is pursuing in just two years would be a death knell for our nation’s lobster industry,” wrote the lawmakers. “It would close off thousands of miles of prime fishing areas and require lobstermen and women to make significant changes to how they harvest the resource, including the use of ‘ropeless’ fishing gear when it is not technologically or economically viable. Given these possible outcomes, it is unacceptable that your agency is only holding one in-person meeting hours away from some of our state’s largest lobster ports, forcing lobstermen to spend time off the water, which is their primary if not only source of income. This decision to knowingly limit opportunities to directly engage with the lobstermen and our coastal communities speaks volumes about your concern for their future.” 

As the lawmakers wrote in their letter, the site of Wednesday evening’s scoping meeting was hours away from some of the state’s most heavily trafficked lobster ports, the largest of which is in Stonington, a community over three hours away. The meeting was so highly attended that many of those present were not afforded the opportunity to speak in the time allotted for the meeting.

“There is still time for NOAA officials to demonstrate their commitment to engaging with the people they are supposed to serve,” the lawmakers continued. “We implore you to schedule an additional in-person hearing so that the voices of all of those impacted by these new regulations can be heard.” 

This action by the Maine congressional delegation and the governor is a continuation of their persistent efforts to support Maine’s lobster fishery. Members of the delegation, the governor, and their staff were present at Wednesday evening’s scoping meeting in Portland. Following the unsubstantiated and speculative decision by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch to place Maine lobster on their seafood “Red List,” the delegation introduced and the governor backed a bill that would prohibit federal taxpayer funds from going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As NOAA has worked to roll out their Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP),  the congressional delegation has continually urged the organization to create regulations that are based on the best available evidence and don’t unfairly target the fishery. To help lobstermen bear the costs of complying with the regulations, the delegation has also backed legislation that would offset costs and worked to secure $17.1 million in funding for the industry in a yearly appropriations bill. 

The text of the letter can be found here.

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