Maine State Senator David Miramant
Maine State Senator David Miramant
At the end of August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced new regulations that will pose a serious threat to Maine’s lobster industry. The new regulations will close at least 950 square miles of the Gulf of Maine to lobstering from October to January, which is the most lucrative season. The regulations are supposed to protect the endangered right whale species. Scientists estimate that there are 360 right whales left. However, these new rules come at a time when there is no evidence or data to suggest that Maine lobstering is responsible for the deaths of right whales. That’s why I, along with over 150 legislators, wrote a letter to President Biden urging him to roll back NOAA’s new rules.

I believe that we must protect our marine wildlife and have an eye toward conservation. I think all lobster fishers would agree with me that the industry has been conscious of conservation for years. The Maine Department of Marine Resources, legislators and representatives of the lobster fishery began working on the issue of right whales over two years ago and have made productive suggestions.

Earlier this month, the Portland Press Herald reported, “Since 2017, 34 right whales have been killed, according to NOAA. An earlier estimate of 33 deaths attributed 21 to Canada and 12 to the U.S. Eleven incidents were attributed to ship strikes, including at least two in U.S. waters, but none can be linked to the Maine lobster industry.” No right whale has been entangled in Maine lobster gear in over 17 years of reporting. The Maine lobster industry is being punished for something they are not responsible for. Mainers have relied on our working waterfronts to provide for their families for generations. Last year, NOAA reached an agreement with the state about gear marking for easy identification and our lobster fishery has been making changes to the lines to prevent any potential harm to right whales. Now, NOAA has broken that agreement and fractured our trust. Lobster fishers have adapted to rules and regulations in the past to protect our marine life, but this time they’re being stretched too thin.

The new regulations are part of a three-phase plan that NOAA claims will reduce right whale deaths by 98% by 2030. The three-phase plan progressively shuts down regions to fishing and further stretches Maine’s lobster industry. NOAA estimates that the first phase of the plan will cost Maine’s lobster fishers between 5% and 10% in revenue per year. This does not account for what the long-term effects will be on the lobster industry holistically such as gear suppliers, restauranters, trap builders and rope manufacturers. The only way to implement the new plan and maintain the lobster industry requires Maine to completely rethink our lobstering practices. It would mandate the conversion from traditional rope fishing to expensive and developmental ropeless fishing technology. Some estimates indicate that to fully transform Maine’s lobster fleet to ropeless technology would cost upwards of $500 million. The technology is still in the developmental phase and may not even work properly.

The NOAA regulations have put hardworking Maine families in a hard spot. I oppose this proposal that puts our coastal communities in jeopardy, risks hardworking Maine families’ livelihoods and hurts our economy without ensuring safety for right whales. Environmental groups have opposed the regulations for not addressing the actual problem as well. I identify as an environmentalist and can recognize when a policy doesn’t solve the problem.

As we said in our letter to President Biden, many of us here in the State House believe that “the new regulations threaten to irreparably harm Maine’s iconic, sustainable lobster fishery.” Mainers remain committed to supporting both the vitality of the lobstering industry and protecting the right whale. We asked President Biden to immediately reverse the new regulations and to re-engage with the state of Maine, our agencies, and our stakeholders to fund a better solution. We’re asking for regulations that are based on documented risk, incorporate the needs of the people of Maine, take into account all the available resources, and are based in science.