WASHINGTON — Maine’s congressional delegation called on U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to reject a petition to impose seasonal and dynamic closures on parts of the state’s lobster fishery.
The Pew Charitable Trusts submitted a petition to close four areas of lobster fishing in Maine unless lobstermen used so-called “ropeless” fishing gear.
“The petition submitted by Pew undermines our shared goal of both protecting the North Atlantic right whale and ensuring the future viability of our nation’s lobster fishery,” wrote Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) and Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Jared Golden (D-Maine). “Unfortunately, this proposal would have a detrimental economic impact on Maine’s lobster industry and the coastal communities they support, while providing limited risk reduction. It is unfortunate to see this attempted circumvention of NOAA’s established regulatory process when lives, livelihoods, and the survival of an endangered species are on the line.”
Pew petitioned former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in 2020 to call for closures throughout New England waters, including an area Downeast from August to October, to better protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Last month, the organization submitted an updated petition for rulemaking, arguing that action was needed to save the species, which has dipped down to an estimated population of fewer than 356.
“Leading scientists have concluded that right whales will be functionally extinct in the near future — during our lifetimes — unless effective measures are put in place now to protect them,” Pew wrote. “If action is not taken now, it is likely that the North Atlantic right whale will be the first large whale in the Atlantic to go extinct in modern history.”
The congressional leaders said that the proposed closures in the trap fishing areas unless ropeless fishing is used are “ignoring the reality” that ropeless technology is not commercially available or financially viable for fishermen, nor is it proven safe and effective on a commercial scale.
In their letter to Raimondo, the delegation said that the Downeast closure would mitigate little risk while causing massive economic damage.
The federal fisheries regulators are working on new rules for the lobster fishery in relation to right whales. Those rules are expected to come out next month.
Fishermen in the region have adamantly said that they are not the reason for the right whales’ decline and have felt they are being unfairly punished for other industries’ actions.