Governor Mills Calls on Commerce Secretary to Delay Implementation of Gear Marking & Modification in Right Whale Rule

September 24, 2021

In a letter today to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Governor Janet Mills urged swift action by NOAA Fisheries to reduce the unnecessary economic harm to Maine fishermen that the recently announced Federal whale protection rule will cause.

“I don’t believe this rule, as written, should take effect at all, and, at the very least, I urge you to direct NOAA Fisheries to delay the rule’s implementation of gear marking and gear modifications (including both trawling up and insertion of weak points) to July 1, 2022,” wrote Governor Mills.

“It is entirely unfair that Maine lobstermen continue to be the primary target of burdensome regulations, despite the many effective mitigation measures they have taken and despite the data showing that ship strikes and Canadian fishing gear continue to pose significant risk to right whales,” she wrote.

On August 31, 2021, the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) issued the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Rule. In response, Governor Mills joined U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden is opposing the rule.

In her letter today, Governor Mills highlighted gear marking requirements that are “alarmingly different than what was in the proposed rule.” Maine implemented a state-specific gear marking regulation in 2020 that provided flexibility to fishermen who move gear from offshore to inshore waters. After communicating with NOAA, Maine anticipated it would be reflected in the final rule. Instead, the final rule will require many fishermen to “purchase a second set of endlines,” wrote Governor Mills. She pointed out that the cost to fishermen for a second set of endlines is estimated to be over $9 million.

Revenue loss associated with the May 1, 2022 implementation deadline for required gear marking and modification will also unfairly burden Maine fishermen. “Fishermen who fish year-round usually do not begin to rotate their gear inshore until May. However, in order to meet the rule’s new requirements, fishermen anticipate a month or more of gear work to become compliant. Due to the NOAA deadline, gear will need to be brought back to port in March or April, when the price of lobster is very high,” wrote Governor Mills.

The expected loss from the implementation date, which was established without input from industry, is between $15 million and $25 million.

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 Department urging 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.

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.

Her Administration, through the Maine Department of Marine Resources, also plans to file for intervenor status in the pending litigation Center for Biological Diversity v. Ross in the U.S. District Court in the D.C. Circuit in an effort to avoid having the court vacate the biological opinion (BiOp). If the biological opinion is vacated by the court, the potential outcome is a closure of the entire fishery. The Governor is supporting the effort by funding the use of specialized outside counsel through the Governor’s Contingent Account.

A copy of the letter is attached (PDF).