Lobster industry faces unjustified punishment

By Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos | Aug 24, 2019

Collective punishment is defined as a penalty imposed on every member of a group without regard to his or her involvement in the group's actions and conduct.

imposing penalties on persons, or entire groups of persons, in defiance of the most elementary principles of humanity, for acts that these persons have not committed, is an unconstitutional and illegal tactic. Under the 1949 Geneva Convention, in time of war, collective punishment is considered a war crime: "No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible."

On Aug. 14 at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Right Whale/Lobster industry hearing at Medomak Valley High School, when I confronted NOAA scientist Colleen Coogan with the fact that no Maine lobster gear has ever harmed a right whale, the scientist made this stunning admission: "You're correct," she said, " the government has not been able to trace the death of a right whale to entanglement with gear from a Maine lobster trap." She was then asked about container ship strikes. Yes, many, she said, and problems in Canada, but none here in our Gulf of Maine.

These facts are exactly why our entire federal congressional delegation, Gov. Janet Mills, and former Gov. Paul LePage have all come together to resist the unreasonable and unjustified sanctions and gear reductions that NOAA has proposed, some of which will clearly endanger the lives and safety of lobstermen and -women.

On Aug. 15 in Portland, at another NOAA hearing, environmental advocates weighed in and resisted any form of common sense. “It’s important not to debate the facts," said Gina Garey of Portland, state director of Animal Wellness Action. They don't want to debate the facts because the "facts" prove they have no evidence to support their war against the lobster industry.

As the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” That surely applies here. There is no evidence, nor any peer-reviewed scientific studies to support the claims of these environmental groups when it comes to linking the Maine lobster industry and right whale deaths. That's why they don't want to debate the facts: because when it come to evidence, they have none.

And what about the constitutional rights of our lobstermen? The very foundation of American democracy lies in our Constitution, including the 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments: the right to be confronted with solid evidence, the right to a fair hearing and due process, the right to equal protection under the law. Here's what Alison Rieser, a retired University of Maine School of Law professor who is a nationally recognized expert in ocean and coastal law, urged the National Marine Fisheries Service to consider: adopting emergency rules to protect right whales from entanglement, saying the science is very compelling and would likely win in court.

“I wouldn’t rest on the idea that you will be able to tie this up in court,” Rieser told a fired-up crowd of Midcoast lobstermen in Waldoboro Wednesday. “The reason I say that is judges do not like to preside over the extinction of an endangered, especially an iconic endangered species.” Incredibly Rieser went on to tell the crowd that their constitutional rights "amounted to a red herring."

So here we have a lawyer willing to suspend all constitutional precepts, including the right to a fair hearing and due process, willing to condemn the future of my people without a shred of evidence. Her frightening comments amount to one thing: she's willing to serve as judge, jury and executioner, rendering the lobster industry into the dust bin of history. All I can say to her is that her comment shows a shameful disregard of common decency, civil rights, common sense, and yes, she supports a form of collective punishment.

My message to her and to those groups who refuse to listen to the lack of evidence or common sense is: we plan on resisting you in every avenue we can.

Yes, we all care deeply about the right whale, but penalizing people who have nothing to do with right whale deaths is not the answer.

Maine Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos is an independent from Friendship who represents House District 91.

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