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Gov. Mills joins Maine leaders in opposing strict restrictions for lobstermen to protect right whales

By Daniel Dunkle | Jul 11, 2019

Augusta — Maine Gov. Janet Mills issued a statement July 11 that was highly critical of proposed regulations aimed at the lobster industry to protect endangered right whales.

"...It is clear to me – as it is to you – that the federal government’s pending regulations are unfair, unreasonable and unwarranted," she said. "I will not stand idly by as Washington attempts to threaten your livelihoods and our way of life."

Federal regulators are considering cutting the number of vertical ropes fishermen may use to haul traps by 50 percent across the entire fishery in an effort to protect whales from potential entanglement. The right whale population is estimated to be down to 445 individuals.

At stake is 50 percent of Maine's most important commercial fishery. State data show the fishery's landings alone are valued at nearly $500 million.

While environmentalist groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation, are calling on regulators to do more to protect this species, Maine's congressional delegation has sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to intervene to stop the proposed regulations.

In her statement Mills highlighted the importance of the lobster industry to the state.

"Maine’s lobster industry is a critical pillar of our state’s economy, and it is that way because of your hard work and that of generations before you," she said to fishermen. "To people around the world, Maine lobster is more than just a culinary delicacy, it is a proud symbol of our state’s strong work ethic and our unshakable grit and determination. Today, Maine’s 4,800-plus commercial harvesters and nearly 300 wholesale dealers support their families, breathe life into their communities, provide jobs and help sustain a unique and treasured way of life."

She noted some of the challenges fishermen face, including tariffs and the bait shortage.

"These issues are difficult enough to confront without the heavy hand of the federal government trying to make life even harder for you through misguided regulations – ones not even supported by data," she said.

"There is a disturbing lack of evidence connecting the Maine lobster industry to recent right whale deaths. To the contrary, the six right whale deaths in Canada this year, in addition to the three right whales recently discovered entangled in Canadian waters, are evidence that the Maine lobster fishery is not the primary problem for right whales.

"Based on the lack of evidence connecting the Maine lobster fishery to recent right whale mortalities and the risk of negatively and profoundly altering our fisheries because of these pending regulations, I have directed [Dept. of Marine Resources] Commissioner [Pat] Keliher to evaluate a risk-reduction target for Maine that is commensurate to any actual risk posed by the Maine lobster industry – not the 60 percent risk-reduction target assigned by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The commissioner will come back to the industry in August, as promised, to share the department’s findings and put forward a plan to reduce risk in Maine.

"...My administration will not allow any bureaucrat to undermine our lobster industry or our economy with foolish, unsupporte, and ill-advised regulations. I stand with you and I will do everything I can as your governor to protect your rights and your livelihoods and defend Maine’s lobster industry in the face of absurd federal overreach."

Maine's congressional delegation has signed a letter appealing directly to the president to spare the industry from the strict regulations. The July 10 letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King Jr. as well as Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree.

"Dear Mr. President: We write to urge your intervention in a matter of serious economic importance to the State of Maine. The livelihoods of thousands of hardworking lobstermen and women are currently under grave threat from new regulations under development by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)," the letter states.

The full letter is attached below.

"I have been working this week asking our Maine congressional delegation to contact the president to take executive action," said State Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship. "...It's time we applied common sense to the right whale issue. Yes, we all care about the endangered right whales, but Maine's lobster fleet should not be shouldering the blame for the damage caused by container ships."

Attorney Emily Green of the Conservation Law Foundation said the foundation is extremely disappointed in this action by the delegation and she argued that the lawmakers should be seeking solutions that protect the whales and the industry. She also said they are trying to obstruct a process in which stakeholders from the lobster industry had significant involvement.

The Conservation Law Foundation is sending its letter in response, which is attached to this article below.

“The Maine Lobstermen’s Association profoundly thanks the governor for her statement in strong support of Maine’s lobstermen and our communities as we grapple with the developing federal whale rules,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “The Maine lobster industry understands that right whales are at risk and we want to be part of the solution. But as the governor rightly points out, the data show that Maine is just a small part of a large and complex problem. Maine’s solution must be right-sized to reflect the risk our fishery poses to right whales. We will not implement changes to our fishery to achieve an arbitrary goal if those measures won’t actually benefit the right whale.”

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Christine Clayton | Jul 11, 2019 22:58

Please read the letter from the CLF. The hypocrisy. They literally commend the Canadian fishery for measures they've taken. All while there have been 6 right whale deaths this year in Canadian waters- mostly due to ship strikes. And none confirmed in the GOM for past few years.

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