Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, and Governor Janet Mills issued this statement following the release of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Rule:
“The Maine lobster fishery has repeatedly made significant improvements to their practices and modifications to their gear to protect right whales, including the implementation of weak link mandates in 1997 and again in 2007. Notably, there has not been a single right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster fisheries in nearly two decades,” said Maine’s Congressional Delegation and Governor Mills. “In recent years, the Delegation and the Mills Administration, including the Maine Department of Marine Resources, have worked closely with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Lobstering Union, and other stakeholders to ensure that their input was received by NMFS with the goal of regulations that are fair, safe, and reflect the reality in the Gulf of Maine. Unfortunately, the final rule does not meet those standards.”
“We agree that we must protect the fragile right whale population, but we must do so without endangering human lives or livelihoods. It is unacceptable that Maine lobstermen and women continue to be the primary target of burdensome regulations despite the multiple effective mitigation measures they have taken and the data showing that ship strikes and Canadian snow crab gear pose substantially greater risks to right whales,” they continued. “We will continue to work with our partners in the lobster industry to support this vital part of Maine’s economy and heritage.”
The Maine Delegation has been steadfastly opposed to undue burdens that would threaten the lobster fishery – an important economic driver for Maine – but which do not meaningfully protect whales. The Delegation urged both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to act on their pledges to protect lobstermen’s livelihoods, citing the lack of data to support claims that the lobster fishery presents an extreme risk to whales compared to other marine activities such as ship strikes. Last week, they wrote to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, urging her to oppose last-minute changes to this rule that would significantly harm the livelihoods of communities that depend on fishing and lobstering without meaningfully protecting whales.
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.