Governor Mills & DMR Commissioner Keliher Respond to First Circuit Court Decision Reinstating Lobster Fishery Closure in Gulf of Maine

Governor Mills and Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher issued the following statements today on the U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision to reinstate a 967 square mile fisheries closure off the Maine coast. The closure had been temporarily suspended by U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker in October as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Maine Lobster Union.

“This is a deeply disappointing result. This sudden closure will cause significant economic hardship for Maine’s lobster industry, will cost hundreds of fishermen millions of dollars, and will have a profound impact on businesses that rely on landings during the lucrative late fall and winter months,” said Governor Mills. “We will continue to do all we can in the coming weeks and months to defend Maine lobstermen.”

With the support of Governor Mills, DMR’s science staff deployed seven archival sound traps in October throughout the Gulf of Maine, including one in the LMA1 Restricted Area, to listen for right whales. These sound traps will provide data to better understand right whale habitat use in the Gulf of Maine and ensure that management measures are based on sound science.

“Improved science will mean better outcomes for right whales and for Maine’s vital lobster industry,”continued Governor Mills.

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher noted the operational and safety challenges posed by the recent court decisions.

“This industry is suffering from whiplash, trying to change plans based on these rapidly evolving court decisions,” said Commissioner Keliher. “Moving gear around 30 miles off-shore at this time of the year also poses a serious safety risk for fishermen. Fishermen’s lives are at stake and NOAA and the courts have an obligation to take fisherman safety into concern when they make these decisions.”

Commissioner Keliher also emphasized the need for the state to remain focused on a lawsuit that is potentially even more impactful than the Union lawsuit.

“As tough a loss as this is, the state will continue to focus its legal resources on the case in the DC District Court that challenges the biological opinion and has the potential of a complete fishery closure. Those stakes are extremely high and demand our full attention,” Commissioner Keliher continued.

Maine DMR will confirm the timing of the closure and will communicate pertinent details with the industry when they are available.

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.

Her Administration has intervened in the pending litigation Center for Biological Diversity v. Ross in the U.S. District Court in the D.C. Circuit, which, if decided in the plaintiff’s favor, could close Maine’s lobster fishery altogether.

The Governor also recently sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo urging swift action by NOAA Fisheries to reduce the unnecessary economic harm to Maine fishermen. She also joined Maine’s Congressional Delegation in applauding 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

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.