A provision in the omnibus spending bill will freeze environmental regulations that are putting additional strain on Maine lobstermen who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat.
The National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) produced a plan in May 2021 that requires lobstermen to significantly reduce their activities to prevent North Atlantic right whales from being incidentally killed by fishermen, a move that would impose onerous regulations on the industry without taking into account the industry’s consistent efforts to prevent whale deaths, according to the Maine Lobstermen Association (MLA). The omnibus provision, which was added to the bill by a bipartisan group of New England lawmakers, halts the NMFS plan and directs the agency to craft an alternative framework that contains input from lobster industry stakeholders and affected states.
The provision deems that current right whale protections are sufficient for lobster and crab fisheries to continue operating at their current rate until December 2028, but also establishes a grant program to fund organizations and initiatives that protect right whales. The NFMS plan is intended to reduce right whale deaths by 98% by 2030; however, since 2004, there have been no documented right whale deaths or serious injuries caused by Maine lobster fishing, according to a legal challenge filed by MLA.
“I am deeply disturbed by the sincere and genuine effort that the lobster industry has put towards working with the NMFS over the years only to be disregarded over and over again,” Maine lobsterman Dwight Carver said in a sworn affidavitfiled in the legal challenge. “Lobstermen are worried whether they will have a fishery next year as a consequence of NMFS’s actions.”
Lobster fishing is a key revenue stream for Maine’s coastal communities and in 2021, Maine lobstermen caught $725 million worth of lobster, accounting for more than 80% of all state commercial fishery catches and making the Maine lobster fishery the second most valuable fishery the U.S., according to court documents. Maine’s lobster industry is entirely composed of small businesses as the state bans corporate ownership of lobster vessels.
“The importance of lobstering to the economy of Maine cannot be overstated,” Lawrence Barker, a local Maine bank president, said in an affidavit filed in the legal challenge. “Should the lobster fishery be severely restricted due to proposed changes to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan resulting in a 90% reduction in risk from the fishery to North Atlantic right whales, the ripple effects will be enormous.”
North Atlantic right whales are considered an endangered species and fewer than 336 of them remain, according to NOAA. Since 2017, 20% of right whales have died unnaturally or become seriously injured; most deaths and injuries occurred when whales became tangled in ropes or collided with boats.
NMFS did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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