Maine Delegation and Governor Mills Urge Commerce Secretary to Rescind Right Whale Rule and Protect Lobster Fishery

October 22, 2021
Press Release
NMFS’ flawed and unfair rule would jeopardize livelihoods of lobstermen and women without meaningfully protecting whales

Washington, D.C. – Following the U.S. District Court of Maine’s order blocking the Lobster Management Area (LMA) 1 restricted area closure, which is a component of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) flawed and unfair Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Rule, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, and Governor Janet Mills sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. In their bipartisan letter, the Maine Delegation and Governor Mills applauded the U.S. District Court of Maine’s decision halting the enforcement of the LMA 1 closure and urged Secretary Raimondo to use her authorities to immediately resolve the rule’s many shortcomings.

“Throughout the rulemaking process, we have raised concerns expressed by Maine’s lobstermen and other industry stakeholders about the flawed and incomplete data upon which the final rule ultimately relied. Moreover, NMFS’s decision to impose a sudden fisheries closure will cause irreparable harm to the industry, while doing little to achieve meaningful protections for the right whale population,” Maine’s Congressional Delegation and Governor Mills wrote. “In light of the District Court’s order and the many flaws with the rule, particularly with respect to the LMA 1 closure, we urge you rescind the rule and resolve these issues.”

“We fully agree with the Court’s determination that ‘the record presented thus far does not indicate that right whales actually congregate in or pass through the LMA 1 Restricted Area with nearly enough frequency to render it a ‘hotspot’ for whale and buoy line co-occurrence, contrary to the agency’s characterization,” Maine’s Congressional Delegation and Governor Mills continued. “The District Court’s decision is a sound and welcome development, and underscores the many shortcomings with the Agency’s final rule. We urge you to withdraw this rule and to use whatever authorities you have to immediately resolve the LMA 1 restricted area component, which does not reflect the reality of the conditions in the Gulf of Maine.”

The letter underscored many of the shortcomings of NMFS’ rule that were pointed out in the District Court’s decision, such as:

  • NMFS’ predictive models forecast very low-percentages of right whale presence during the closure period.
  • Prior area closures imposed elsewhere by NMFS have been designed to coincide with the actual presence of right whales and have relied on predictable whale aggregations in specific areas and seasons.
  • NMFS’ own data – or lack thereof in some instances – support the conclusion that right whales are present in the Northern Gulf of Maine less and less frequently as waters warm and the species’ primary food source moves further offshore and northward into colder Canadian waters.
  • The record of known entanglements and vessel strike cases between 2010 and 2019 includes zero known incidents in LMA 1, which means there is sparse evidence to support an immediate and preemptive closure of this area.

The Maine Delegation and Governor Mills have been steadfastly opposed to undue burdens that would threaten the lobster fishery – an important economic driver for Maine – but which do not meaningfully protect whales. Following the release of the final rule in late August, the Maine Delegation and Governor 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. 

They previously wrote to Commerce Secretary Raimondo, urging her to oppose last-minute changes to this rule that would significantly harm the livelihoods of communities that depend on fishing and lobstering without meaningfully protecting whales. The Delegation also urged both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to act on their pledges to protect lobstermen’s livelihoods, citing the lack of data to support claims that the lobster fishery presents an extreme risk to whales compared to other marine activities such as ship strikes.

Governor Mills has repeatedly stood up for Maine’s vital lobster industry and its working men and women in the face of the Federal government’s right whale proposal. Last year, she wrote to the Commerce Departmenturging it to deny a petition by Pew Charitable Trusts that asks for three seasonal offshore closures in the Gulf of Maine and that would prohibit the use of vertical lines in the American lobster and Jonah crab fisheries in four areas of the New England coast. The Maine Delegation sent a similar letter in opposition to the Pew petition. She also filed comments with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the draft Biological Opinion for ten fishery management plans in the Greater Atlantic Region, focusing on the North Atlantic Right Whale, expressing “grave concern” and warning it will be economically devastating and will fundamentally change Maine’s lobster fishery. The Governor also filed for, and was granted, intervenor status in the pending litigation Center for Biological Diversity v. Ross in the U.S. District Court in the D.C. Circuit. If decided in the plaintiff’s favor, the lawsuit could close the Maine lobster fishery altogether. Governor Mills sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo urging swift action by NOAA Fisheries to reduce the unnecessary economic harm to Maine fishermen that the recently announced Federal whale protection rule will cause.

Read the full letter here (PDF).