Standing up for Maine’s vital lobster industry and its hardworking men and women, Governor Janet Mills today urged U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to deny a petition by Pew Charitable Trusts that would prohibit the use of vertical lines in the American lobster and Jonah crab fisheries in four areas of the New England coast.
In a letter sent to the Commerce Secretary yesterday, Governor Mills explained that the petition, which asks for immediate year-round closures south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and three seasonal offshore closures in the Gulf of Maine to protect North Atlantic right whales, “not only fails to provide additional protections for right whales, but contrary to Pew’s assertions, it will also cause significant economic impact to Maine’s iconic lobster fishery.”
Governor Mills explained that, unlike the Pew petition, a proposed regulation currently in development intended to protect right whales has benefited from broad stakeholder input. “It is my sincere hope that you will ensure that NOAA Fisheries continues to pursue development of this rule, which has been developed through the input of a diverse body, the Take Reduction Team (TRT),” stated the Governor. “The TRT includes fishermen who understand the operational realities posed by various measures and are working side by side with the conversation community to identify practical, safe solutions to protect right whales.”
Governor Mills added that NOAA staff cannot afford to divert attention from the regulatory process to address a proposal that has the potential to harm right whales, rather than help them.
The Pew proposal will increase risk to right whales by creating a “curtain effect” where fishermen move gear to open waters around closures “increasing density of vertical lines and therefore, increasing risk in those areas,” explained Governor Mills.
Governor Mills also called into question the data and methodologies used by Pew to establish the location and timing of closures. A 2019 paper cited by Pew as a basis for location and timing of proposed closures that examines shifts in right whale prey fails to incorporate predictions of whale migration.
Pew’s assertion that the proposed closures will have minimal impact on fishing is “patently untrue,” wrote the Governor. Two areas proposed for closure “provide critical opportunity to our harvesters and represent 15% to 24% of the area accessible to Maine fishermen during the impacted months,” she wrote.
According to Department of Marine Resources data, landings revenues for Maine fishermen from two of the proposed closures are estimated to be $18.8 million during the proposed May through October closure, representing 4 percent of the $482.9 million 2019 value of Maine lobster fishery.
“Maine’s lobster harvesters are concerned about the status of North Atlantic Right Whales,” stated Governor Mills. “My Commissioner of Marine Resources, Patrick Keliher, has been working closely with the industry to develop a plan that provides meaningful protections in the areas of greatest risk to whales, while also ensuring our fishery can continue to operate safely. We remain committed to working toward these objectives.”
A copy of Governor Mills’ letter is attached.