ME Delegation Urges Feds to Reject Petition that Undermines Regulatory Process, Threatens Maine Lobster Fishery

December 16, 2020
Press Release
Interest groups’ petition to Department of Commerce attempts end-run around rulemaking process, includes no input from fishermen or the public, ignores ship strikes and entanglements in Canadian waters

WASHINGTON — Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02), Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME), and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) today urged the U.S. Department of Commerce to reject a petition for emergency interim fishery regulations regarding the North Atlantic right whale. The petition, submitted by a number of out-of-state interest groups, would bypass the established regulatory process and could set a dangerous precedent that could needlessly close lobster fisheries throughout New England. 

Golden, Collins, King, and Pingree also note that the data used by the petitioners in their call for an emergency rulemaking fail to incorporate the significant risks that ship strikes and fishing entanglements in Canadian waters pose to right whales. 

“This petition would undermine years-long cooperative efforts, which are now in the final stages of approval, and set a dangerous precedent of bypassing the regulatory process and excluding the input of lobstermen and seafood harvesters whose lives and livelihoods would be most impacted,” said Golden, Collins, King, and Pingree. “The short-sighted petition undermines our shared goal of protecting both the North Atlantic right whale and the New England lobster industry by ignoring the impacts of ship strikes and entanglements in Canadian waters and other fisheries, while pushing ropeless gear technology that the petitioners know is not viable and would effectively shut down the lobster fishery.”

The petition would expand existing closures and effectively set new ones by prohibiting lobster traps with vertical lines in certain areas off the coast of Massachusetts. The delegation’s letter notes that the petitioners suggest lobstermen use ‘ropeless’ traps, ignoring the fact that such technology is not commercially available, proven to be effective, or financially viable for fishermen. 

The petitioners also fail to acknowledge data collected by the National Marine Service indicating that since 2010, when new sinking groundline and trawling-up rules were put in place, confirmed U.S. lobster gear entanglements have decreased 90 percent, compared to the thirteen years prior. In fact, there has been no direct evidence that a single right whale serious injury or mortality is attributable to the Gulf of Maine or Georges Bank lobster fishery since 2004. 

Previous rulemaking processes have been successful in part because they follow a public process that allows for input from lobstermen and the fishing industry. An additional federal rulemaking process is currently underway and is set to conclude by May 2021. 

Read a copy of the letter here.