Governor Janet Mills today sent a letter (PDF) to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo urging her to provide the time and tools necessary for Maine’s lobster industry to make meaningful contributions during the next phase of rulemaking to protect right whales. The Governor’s letter follows recent decisions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that will hinder the ability of Maine’s lobster industry to provide critical feedback, likely harming the industry and the coastal communities that rely on it.
Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a scoping period to seek stakeholder input on measures to reduce risk to right whales that will provide only one opportunity via webinar for public comment. NOAA also requested that states, including Maine, conduct their own scoping meetings. By contrast, when scoping meetings on the first phase of rulemaking were held in 2019, NOAA held four meetings in Maine alone.
In her letter, Governor Mills pushed Secretary Raimondo to require NOAA to host in-person public hearings in Maine to ensure the voices of Maine’s fishermen are heard.
“It is unconscionable for NOAA to only hold a single public hearing, and a virtual meeting at that,” said Governor Mills. “As NOAA well knows, effectively reaching an audience of fishermen with challenging schedules absolutely requires in-person meetings and opportunities for comment.”
Governor Mills also raised concerns about the timing of the scoping period, which overlaps with a critical meeting of NOAA’s own advisory group, the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT). As a result, ALWTRT will be unable to use important feedback gathered during the scoping period to inform the development of new measures for the fixed gear fisheries, including the lobster fishery.
“Both the timing of NOAA’s scoping period and the opportunities for public comment are completely insufficient given the potential for extraordinary impacts that are likely to be felt by fishermen and communities up and down the eastern seaboard, and especially here in Maine,” Governor Mills wrote.
Governor Mills also criticized NOAA’s decision to block access to the Decision Support Tool (DST), which is the model the agency uses to determine risk reduction associated with management measures, until it is peer reviewed. Without access to this tool, there is no way for Maine to provide example measures to the industry to gather their feedback in this scoping period.
“As a result, [Maine] team members will simply not be able to come prepared to the next ALWTRT meeting, roughly a week from now, with a thoughtfully developed package of management measures to propose,” wrote Governor Mills.“NOAA has asked the state for support and collaboration, but precluding access to the DST runs counter to this stated goal.”
Governor Mills concluded her letter by pushing Secretary Raimondo to extend the scoping period, to hold several in-person meetings in the State of Maine, and to restore access to the DST.
“NOAA is asking hardworking men and women to make unimaginable sacrifices, particularly in fisheries like the Maine lobster fishery which do not have a documented right whale serious injury or mortality,” wrote Governor Mills. “The consequences of this action are simply too great to proceed at this breakneck pace absent the necessary information.”