UPDATED: Maine's congressional delegation asks Trump to help lobstermen facing right whale regulations

Letter to President Trump signed by Sens. Collins, King, Reps. Pingree, Golden
By Daniel Dunkle | Jul 11, 2019

Washington, D.C. — Maine's congressional delegation has signed a letter appealing directly to President Donald Trump to spare Maine's critical lobster industry from strict regulations being considered to protect endangered right whales.

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.

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, and that does not take into account the economy built around the fishery, including those who sell boats, service them, store them, fuel sales, bait sales, gear suppliers, seafood wholesalers, dealers, store sales and the restaurant and tourist industry.

The delegation argues that the proposed changes would be an economic hardship for fishermen without clear evidence that the regulations would save the whales.

"In the past two years, fourteen of twenty-two confirmed right whale deaths were found in Canadian waters," they write. "So far in 2019, there have been six right whale deaths, all of which took place in Canada. Three of those deaths have been attributed to ship strikes, not fishing gear entanglements."

"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 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 will be attached to this article below.

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