By Sen. Angus S. King Jr.
This week, we celebrate one of Maine’s most famous residents — and no, I’m not talking about Stephen King or the couple who say “buttery flaky crust” in the Dysart’s commercial. Actually, this week marks National Lobster Day, when we celebrate not only our favorite crustacean, but all the men and women who help this industry and our state thrive.
Folks from away might not understand why we are celebrating the lobster, but Maine people know that this shellfish isn’t just a delicious meal — it’s a vital part of our state’s economy, supporting communities up and down our coast. Maine people also know that even as we celebrate lobsters, this industry is facing serious challenges — from well-intentioned but harmful potential regulations, to poorly designed foreign policy emanating from Washington, to the looming threat of warming waters due to climate change. So today, more than any other time in the past, it’s important to emphasize the value of this economic driver, and push back on the threats it faces.
One of the most pressing concerns facing our lobster industry is the danger of potentially misguided federal regulations to protect right whales. Now, let’s be clear: everyone, including lobstermen, wants to protect this endangered species. We just want to make sure we’re making changes based on sound data; and at this point, it is not clear that Maine’s lobster fishery is a significant contributor to right whale deaths. The possible changes threaten livelihoods and lives by calling for expensive and dangerous new equipment configurations. Even worse, these changes would disproportionately affect Maine lobstermen while not holding Canadian fisheries to the same standards.
I’ve been pushing hard with my Maine colleagues, asking everyone from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the President himself to make sure we’re not moving forward based on incomplete data. I even made the argument directly to NOAA officials at an Ellsworth scoping session last month, where more than a hundred concerned people packed into the high school auditorium on a beautiful Tuesday night. The message from the community was unified: we’re prepared to make reasonable changes to protect this species, but show us the data.
These potential regulations are a serious problem on the horizon, but there is an existing Washington policy that is already harming our industry — the President’s trade war. China was the fastest growing market for Maine lobsters, and lobster dealers spent a lot of time and money building relationships with Chinese buyers. But that all changed when the trade war started. Lobsters were one of the first products targeted by China for retaliation after the President started imposing his tariffs, and this has had a severe impact: through the first six months of this year, American lobster exports to China declined by more than 80 percent, and Canadian businesses have already seized the opportunity.
Maine people are paying the price for this reckless trade war. The drop in exports is costing jobs and undermining our state’s ability to build relationships in the Chinese market. Despite this pain, the administration refuses to compensate our industry while it provides bailouts for soybean farmers in Iowa. This is wrong — Maine people did not start this trade war. They deserve to be made whole.
Of course, neither of these concerns will matter if there are no lobsters to catch. That is the threat posed by the warming of waters due to climate change. The Gulf of Maine is the second fastest-warming portion of the world’s oceans, a fact that will dramatically alter ecosystems and drive lobster populations farther north. We’ve already seen once-stable lobster fisheries in Rhode Island and Massachusetts collapse; we don’t want Maine to be next. I’m working hard in the Senate to address climate change, through everything from energy efficiency to renewable energies. It’s the right thing to do for our planet and for our economy.
The men and women who drive our lobster industry make vital contributions to Maine. They’re our lobstermen and lobster processors and dealers, who pull the lobsters out of the water and ship them across the state, country, and world; they work in our tourism industry that is boosted by this world-renowned fishery, and in our restaurants that serve unparalleled products fresh from the sea; they are our neighbors and our friends. When we celebrate National Lobster Day, what we’re really celebrating are our people and communities who help make Maine so special.
So, to all of you who make this vital sector of Maine go: thank you. Our state wouldn’t be the same without you, and I’ll keep working to defend your livelihoods, in ways both big and small (think emoji-sized), from anyone and anything that interferes with your work.
Independent Sen. Angus S. King Jr., the 72nd governor of Maine, has served as the state’s junior senator in the U.S. Senate since 2013.