State, lobster union granted intervenor status in lawsuit

TRENTON — The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and the Maine Lobstering Union (MLU) have been granted intervenor status in Maine Lobstermen’s Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service, a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that challenges federal regulations affecting Maine’s lobster industry.

“There’s never been a known right whale mortality associated with the Maine lobster fishery, and there have been zero known right whale entanglements associated with Maine lobster gear in almost two decades. Despite these facts and regardless of our lobster industry’s proven commitment to conservation, the National Marine Fisheries Service has pushed forward with regulations that will be devastating to our lobster industry and to our way of life,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Maine cares about protecting the endangered right whale, but the federal government’s regulations must be based in sound science and should account for conservation measures already taken by our fishery. I am glad my administration has been granted intervenor status by the Court so we can make our case.”

In the suit, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association asserts that the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) new biological opinion, released in May, is unlawful. The plaintiffs argue that NMFS acted arbitrarily by failing to rely on the best available scientific information and by failing to account for the positive impact of conservation measures already adopted by the Maine lobster fishery.

“Over decades, the Maine lobster fishery has adopted strong conservation measures to protect right whales. The result of this longstanding commitment should not be ignored by federal regulators,” said DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “The Maine lobster fishery has proven its commitment to conservation, but these new standards threaten its future and jeopardize a cornerstone of our state’s economy.”

In September, both the DMR and MLU filed for and were granted intervenor status in Center for Biological Diversity v. Ross, a lawsuit also before the U.S. District Court, which, if decided in the plaintiff’s favor, could close Maine’s lobster fishery altogether.

“The Maine Lobstering Union will continue to use every resource at our disposal to protect both the Maine lobstering community and the environment, which we have been stewards of for generations,” said the MLU’s Virginia Olsen. “We simply ask that decisions that impact the livelihoods of countless communities be grounded in science. Our resolve is steadfast to protect this world-renowned industry and the men and women who depend on it.”

Gov. Mills has also opposed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ seasonal closure of a part of Maine’s lobster fishery.

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 NOAA on the draft biological opinion for 10 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.

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