Maine’s billion-dollar lobster industry wins reprieve

The lobster industry and environmental groups have been at odds for years over the protection of the endangered North Atlantic whale, but recently won reprieve from regulations.

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Image Credit: Fred Field/The Boston Globe

Maine’s iconic lobster industry won reprieve after state delegates were able to insert a 6-year delay on new federal fishing regulations into the $1.7 trillion spending bill that President Biden signed into law at the end of 2022. The lobster industry and environmental groups were at odds for years over the protection of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

But the lobstermen won reprieve from new rules including “eliminating the vertical lines of rope connecting a string of traps on the bottom to a buoy on the surface,” along with the creation of no fishing zones and other regulations that could “destroy their industry,” NPR reported.

“If you take away three months, four months, five months of the ability to go out and harvest lobster, you are not only going to impact harvesters,” Curt Brown, lobsterman, said. “You are going to impact many, many other businesses as well.”

Environmental groups said the biggest threats to right whales include entanglement in the vertical lines of fishing rope and collision with ships. The Marine Stewardship Council called whale entanglement a “serious and tragic situation” and said the fishing lines can wrap around a whale’s fins or get lodged in their mouths, which can lead to death. Therefore, environmentalists said the push for official restrictions were necessary to protect the endangered species from extinction—currently there are only 340 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.

“Is there a chance that we can save the right whale in 2028?,” Brett Hartl from the Center for Biological Diversity said. “Yeah, sure. It maybe was a 50-50 proposition before. Now it’s like 95 percent to 5 percent against.”

But Maine’s political leaders, both Democratic and Republican, continued to back the lobster industry “because of its contributions to the state’s economy,” Causes.com reported.

“In the 25 years that I’ve been privileged to represent Maine in the United States Senate, I have never seen a worse case of regulatory overreach to address a problem and blame an industry that is not at all responsible for a problem,” Sen. Susan Collins (ME-R) said.

While “ropeless” fishing gear is currently in development, “the federal spending bill also called for the creation of a grant program that could fund new fishing gear technologies that are not as harmful to whales,” Causes.com reported.

“I think our industry, for the first time in a long time, can see a ray of sunshine and feel optimistic that the hard work we have been doing is being recognized,” Brown said.

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