WINTER HARBOR — More than 150 state legislators from across Maine have sent a letter to President Joe Biden calling on him to rescind the closure of a large swath of offshore lobster fishing ground that was part of the new rules for the fishery in order to protect right whales.
The rule put forward by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “threatens to irreparably harm Maine’s iconic, sustainable lobster fishery,” the 151 legislators wrote to the President. “The agency’s recent actions are not grounded in sound science, will lead to the near elimination of Maine’s lobster industry, cause economic devastation to the hundreds of coastal communities that depend on it and sadly, will not reverse the decline of the North Atlantic right whale.”
The letter was initiated by state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Republican legislator and Winter Harbor lobsterman. He has been one of the standard bearers for the industry, also leading the push against offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Maine.
The letter went on to note that lobstermen have modified their gear and fishing methods to protect right whales and they wrote that Maine fishing gear hasn’t been connected to a right whale injury or death in more than 17 years.
The state lawmakers felt that the closure of 967 acres of lobster ground that stretches from the west side of Mount Desert Island to Casco Bay, known as LMA1, was not needed to meet NOAA’s risk reduction target for the whales and was much larger than it needed to be.
“Maine lobstermen will suffer significant economic harm for a measure that provides little conservation benefit to right whales,” the letter read.
The legislators also protested changes to gear marking requirements, which could be costly for Maine lobstermen who already abide by a set of gear marking rules that were put in place in anticipation of the federal rule.
Maine and its lobstermen are committed to the recovery of whales but felt that an effective strategy must not punish those who have already made sacrifices.
“For the sake of our fishermen and women, our coastal communities, and our great state, we request that you take the steps necessary for your Administration to immediately rescind the closure area in LMA1, and to order all applicable agencies to re-engage with the state of Maine and our agencies and stakeholders to find a path forward that both protects the endangered right whale but also follows the facts and best known science in dealing with our fishery,” the legislators wrote.
The new rule is also facing a challenge from the conservation agencies that sparked the movement for new rules in federal court.
As of Thursday, Sept. 9, the final rule had yet to be published in the Federal Register. The closure, which would take place seasonally between October and January, is scheduled to go into effect 30 days after the rule is published, meaning that fishermen conceivably may be able to fish through the beginning of October.