WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd Dist., have introduced bipartisan legislation to support lobstermen by creating a grant program to help them comply with federal right whale regulations requiring a change in fishing gear.

According to a March 9 announcement from their offices, the Stewarding Atlantic Fisheries Ecosystems by Supporting Economic Assistance and Sustainability (SAFE SEAS) Act of 2022 will help lobstermen and women with the financial burden of this transition by authorizing grant assistance for fiscal years 2022 through 2024 to help cover the costs of compliance. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st Dist., have signed on as cosponsors of the bill.

According to an estimate by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan rule will cost Maine lobstermen and women at least $45 million because of the expense of trawling up, acquiring and adding weak points, purchasing specialized rope, lengthening groundlines, marking gear, and hiring additional crew to complete this work, the press release said.

Notably, there are no known cases of Maine’s lobster industry being responsible for killing a right whale, and there has not been a single right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster fisheries in nearly two decades, the release said.

“Maine lobstermen and women have always been good stewards of the environment and have taken numerous actions to protect right whales when the science has warranted it,” Collins said. “As NOAA moves ahead with this rule despite the Maine delegation’s urging against it, our legislation would help alleviate the financial burden our lobstermen and women face. We must ensure that this heritage industry has the assistance it needs to continue to support coastal families and communities for generations to come.”

Golden said, “While the funding authorized in this bill is far from a comprehensive solution, it would begin to help lobstermen cover the cost of complying with these misguided regulations. I’m glad to be working with Sen. Collins to get this funding passed and out the door to the fishermen who need it. This bill would not be necessary if this administration or its predecessor had fought these regulations in court and in their federal agencies. Since they failed to do so, it is essential to provide this funding to help Maine lobstermen.”

King said, “For generations, Maine’s lobstering communities have set the gold standard for creating and maintaining a sustainable fishery. Despite this history of environmental leadership, Maine lobstermen are now being subjected to significant regulations that will drastically alter the industry. As this plan moves forward despite questions surrounding the data and aggressive time frame, the least Congress can do is provide funding to help adjust to the new regulations.”

Pingree said, “NOAA’s new gear requirements are set to take effect in just a few weeks, and yet Maine lobstermen and women are struggling to pay for and even find approved gear. After navigating two years of a pandemic and being the target of burdensome new regulations, the lobster industry needs support. While I remain opposed to NOAA’s new rule, it’s my hope that this legislation will lighten the financial burden it will no doubt put on our lobstermen and women. I am proud to work with my fellow New England colleagues on legislation that supports this vital part of Maine’s economy and heritage.”

Collins secured $10 million in a draft appropriations bill to help lobstermen and women cover the cost of complying with the regulation.  Golden and Pingree pressed House appropriators to include similar funding in January.

The Maine delegation and Gov. Janet Mills have been opposed to the rule and have worked to lessen the burdens it will impose on the industry. Following the release of the final rule in late August 2021, the Maine delegation and 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.

In October 2021, they wrote to Secretary Raimondo to urge her to rescind the rule. In February 2022, the Maine delegation and Mills urged Raimondo to postpone the May 1 deadline.