The Right Whale Controversy
Let’s recap what our industry has been through. Our October 2022 blog, “What can you do to support Maine Lobstermen” sums up in a snapshot where the industry was last year. The Maine lobster industry has faced several challenges in relation to efforts to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale from entanglement-related incidents.
First off, everyone – from Maine fishermen to environmental activists – agrees that the right whale should be protected. The main point of contention over the last few years is that the finger was pointed at the wrong people: Maine lobstermen. From increased regulations to costly gear modifications, Maine lobstermen worked overtime to address these concerns.
Last fall, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) fast-tracked a plan that would require Maine’s lobster industry to implement an unachievable 90-percent “risk reduction” as quickly as possible or the federal lobster fishery could be shutdown. However, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) argued that the new regulations went too far, citing a lack of evidence the lobster fishery causes any deliterious impact on right whales.
MLA sued NMFS, arguing that NFMS acted arbitrarily and that the plan didn’t utilize an objective assessment of the best available data. The concern was that these restrictions would drastically harm their livelihoods, if not shut down the entire lobster industry and economically decimate communities that depend on lobster fishing.
Good News for the Lobster Industry
On June 16, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the MLA in its appeal of a lower court ruling in Maine Lobstermen’s Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service.
The court also ruled that despite NMFS’ own admission that nothing in law required it to use a worst-case scenario in the development of models that determine risk to right whales, its ultimate reliance on worst-case scenarios that are “very likely wrong” was arbitrary and capricious, and therefore unlawful.
How You Can Help
Maine lobstermen have been through a lot these last few years and aren’t out of the woods yet. You can help #SaveMaineLobstermen by buying Maine lobster directly from lobstermen, co-ops, restaurants, seafood providers, and Maine lobster shipping companies. Consider helping defray the legal cost of this ongoing fight by contributing the Save Maine Lobsterman Fund through the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
The 77th Annual Maine Lobster Festival takes place July 31 to August 4, 2024 in Rockland, Maine, with free admission once again! Get the jump on your travel plans and book accommodations now. Visit mainelobsterfestival.com for more information.