The Working Waterfront

Lobstermen’s Association sues over whale rules

MLA claims feds relied on poor information

Posted 2021-12-07
Last Modified 2021-12-07

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association filed a lawsuit in early September against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Secretary of Commerce in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the federal government’s ten‐year whale protection plan. The suit claims the plan will all but eliminate the Maine lobster fishery yet still fail to save endangered right whales.

The MLA’s complaint asserts that NMFS’s new biological opinion, released in May, is unlawful because NMFS acted arbitrarily by, among other reasons, failing to rely on the best scientific information and failing to account for the positive impact of conservation measures already adopted by the Maine lobster fishery.

The complaint also seeks relief from the new whale rule arising from flaws in the biological opinion released in September.

“If NMFS really wants to save right whales, they should be going after the things we know are actually killing them…”
—Kristan Porter

“NMFS got it wrong,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

“The science does not support the agency’s plan. Using worst case scenarios that hold Maine lobstermen accountable for right whale deaths occurring in Canada won’t help protect right whales, but it will decimate Maine’s lobster industry,” she said

The MLA claims that NMFS has persistently ignored science and evidence submitted by the MLA and other experts that would have enabled the agency to correct its mistakes.

The MLA points to the success of the Maine lobster fishery’s existing right whale conservation measures implemented over the last 20 years. There has never been a known right whale serious injury or mortality associated with Maine lobster gear. Moreover, there has not been a single known right whale entanglement with Maine lobster gear in almost two decades.

“NMFS is targeting Maine lobstermen because it is easy. We’re a bunch of small, owner-operated businesses,” said Kristan Porter, president of the MLA.

“Taking on Canada and the shipping industry is hard. Maine lobstermen understand the need to protect right whales, but if NMFS really wants to save right whales, they should be going after the things we know are actually killing them rather than dismantling our fishery piece by piece.”

The complaint asserts that “NMFS’s mandate ignores the reality that the Maine lobster fishery already has an extremely low incidence of interactions with right whales due, in part, to a suite of mitigation measures that have been implemented for many years. Reducing its already low impact by another 98 percent is not possible without driving most of Maine’s harvesters out of business permanently.”

The federal plan disregards “critically important new scientific information about right whale migration patterns [that] shows that the Maine lobster fishery will continue to pose very little risk to North Atlantic right whales,” MLA argues.

NMFS’s ten‐year whale plan is already forcing unnecessary burdens on the fleet and will ultimately result in devastating economic hardship to Maine’s fleet of 4,800 individually owned and operated lobster fishing vessels and the tens of thousands of jobs they support, all of which are essential to Maine’s economy as well as irreplaceable aspects of the state’s coastal and maritime heritage, according to the MLA.