In Letter to Lobster Industry, Governor Mills Calls Right Whale Rule “Extremely Disappointing” & Pledges to Work with Maine’s Congressional Delegation to Fight It

September 1, 2021

In the wake of yesterday’s National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Rule, Governor Janet Mills last night sent a letter to Maine’s lobster industry expressing solidarity with them and calling the rule “extremely disappointing”. In the letter to Maine’s lobster harvesters, dealers, and processors, Governor Mills pledges to work with Maine’s Congressional Delegation to determine the best way to address the industry’s and administration’s concerns:

“While NOAA has accepted much of Maine’s proposal for Conservation Equivalencies, which the industry spent significant time developing, NOAA has finalized a gear marking scheme that is very different than what was in the proposed rule. NOAA also continues to include an offshore seasonal closure that is not rooted in right whale sightings or surveys. These types of changes – which disregard fishermen’s time, money, and safety – are extremely troubling,” wrote Governor Mills. “We are evaluating the rule closely and will work with the Congressional Delegation to determine the best way to address the concerns of our administration and those of the Maine lobster industry. While this issue has been brewing for several years now, I don’t care whether there is a Democrat or a Republican in the White House; I will always stand up for the interests of Maine’s lobster industry in the face of burdensome and undue regulations and we will continue to work with our partners in the lobster industry to support this vital part of Maine’s economy and heritage.”

Governor Mills and U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden expressed united opposition to the rule yesterday, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources alsoexpressed its concern over the rule.

Governor Mills repeatedly stood up for Maine’s 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.

The complete text of the letter is available here, and below:


To Members of Maine’s Lobster Industry:

As you may have seen, earlier today NOAA Fisheries released its final rule to modify the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. They have made a number of changes from the proposed rule, and I have directed Commissioner Keliher and his team at the Department of Marine Resources to review it closely.

My Administration and Maine’s entire Congressional Delegation have spent the better part of the past three years working with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Lobstering Union, and other stakeholders to insist that NOAA: 1) focus on the science and 2) consider the impact of its rules on your safety and your livelihoods. Protecting the right whale population must be done through regulations that are fair, that are safe for fishermen, and that accurately reflect the reality in the Gulf of Maine.

While NOAA has accepted much of Maine’s proposal for Conservation Equivalencies, which the industry spent significant time developing, NOAA has finalized a gear marking scheme that is very different than what was in the proposed rule. NOAA also continues to include an offshore seasonal closure that is not rooted in right whale sightings or surveys. These types of changes – which disregard fishermen’s time, money, and safety – are extremely troubling.

As members of the lobster industry, you have repeatedly made sacrifices by changing the way you fish and by modifying your gear to protect right whales, including implementing weak link mandates in 1997 and again in 2007. In nearly two decades, there has not been a single known right whale entanglement attributed to the Maine lobster fishery. It is entirely unfair that Maine lobstermen and women continue to be the primary target of burdensome regulations, despite the many effective mitigation measures you have taken and despite the data showing that ship strikes and Canadian fishing gear continue to pose significant risk to right whales.

We are evaluating the rule closely and will work with the Congressional Delegation to determine the best way to address the concerns of our administration and those of the Maine lobster industry. While this issue has been brewing for several years now, I don’t care whether there is a Democrat or a Republican in the White House; I will always stand up for the interests of Maine’s lobster industry in the face of burdensome and undue regulations and we will continue to work with our partners in the lobster industry to support this vital part of Maine’s economy and heritage.

Sincerely,

Governor Janet T. Mills