A Victory for Maine's Lobster Industry

June 23, 2023

As someone with deep roots in Stonington, Maine, where my ancestors fished, went out to sea and risked their lives, I know that the Maine fishing community are at the heart of our state, and those fishermen have my deepest gratitude and my fervent support. I will always fight to protect them and their families.

So, in close partnership with the Maine Lobstermen's Association and the Maine Lobstering Union, my Administration has been fighting tooth and nail in the courts for months to stop new federal regulations that unfairly target our fishermen. Last week, we won.

Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.

You know, Maine's lobster industry is a model of sustainable harvesting practices and management, with generations of Maine lobstermen working hard to protect the sustainability of the fishery.

Our lobstermen adopted right whale protection measures many years ago and they have complied with federal regulations, spending tens of thousands of dollars out of their own pockets -- at huge expense -- to modify or outright change up their gear to protect endangered right whales.

As a result of those efforts, it's clear: no right whale death has been attributed to Maine lobster gear, and there has not been a single right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster gear in nearly two decades.

Despite these uncontroverted facts, the federal government was moving heedlessly ahead with a new round of regulations that would have endangered the livelihoods of thousands of hardworking lobstermen who risk their lives to put food on the table, while paying out of their own pockets to protect right whales.

So, in close partnership with the lobster industry, my administration sued the National Marine Fisheries Service to prevent this new round of regulations from taking effect.

And last week, a federal appeals court in the District of Columbia ruled in our favor.

In its decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals determined that the National Marine Fisheries Service relied on flawed science to shape their new regulations, wrongly assuming the worst-case scenarios when determining our lobster industry's potential risk to right whales.

The court ruled that a lack of data regarding the source of serious injury and mortality to right whales does not compel the National Marine Fisheries Service to assign a high, rather than a low risk to the Maine lobster industry. The court wrote that the Endangered Species Act which protects right whales "requires the Service to use the best available scientific data, not the most pessimistic."

The court's ruling vindicates what the Maine lobster fishery, and the countless communities who rely on it, knew all along -- that their practices support the conservation of the gulf ecosystem for generations to come. 

Now the National Marine Fisheries Service has to go back to the drawing board and rework these new federal regulations to protect right whales, but only when they are based on the best available data. And because of the legislation that Senator King, Senator Collins, Congresswoman Pingree, and Congressman Golden, and I put together last December, any new federal regulations or rules will still be delayed until 2028, giving us time to work with the industry and make sure that the right whales are protected but without sacrificing the lives and livelihood of our fishermen.

The fishermen who set out from our docks before dawn, who haul traps in all kinds of weather, who feed their families and their neighbors, who boost our state's economy with their catch -- they are at the heart of Maine. They are at the heart of my Administration too, and I will always stand by their side.

This is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.