Local Politics

Lobster Experts Talk About Regulatory Crossfire

On November 17, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted three experts in Maine’s lobstering industry to explain issues of environmentalism, regulation, and most centrally, the population of endangered right whales. The speakers were Patrice McCarron, an executive of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association; Curt Brown, a marine biologist working for state-run lobster supplier Ready Seafood; and Marianne LaCroix, the executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collab. All three have been working to preserve the lobstering industry in the face of recent regulatory enforcement that threatens to decimate it.

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

Maine lobster is no novelty market; In 2021, the industry raked in $725 million, more than any other state, US News reports. Despite the record-breaking sales, the industry is still facing serious trouble. Concerns about its proximity to the endangered population of East Coast Right Whales has landed lobstermen in hot water (no pun intended) with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as other federal regulatory agencies. The blame comes despite strict procedures by Maine lobstermen to minimize their impact on the environment, and interference by Canadian lobstermen who don’t follow any of the same regulations. “Common sense rules have kept our fishery sustainable for generations,” Brown said.

It was in 2017 that the federal government released a study stating that, since 2010, the population of right whales was in decline. Even though the risk technically exists, there has never been a recorded case of a right whale death attributed to the Maine lobstering industry, and the last recorded entanglement was 18 years prior, in 2004, the Portland Press Herald reports. Because of this statistic, there is a lot of ambiguity about whether this is due to mortality caused by fishermen, or because the population of right whales is migrating north due to climate change. Patrice McCarron claimed that the federal government proposed cutting off the downeast Maine area from all lobstering for the months of June, July, and August, even though, according to population modeling, there are “0.0006 whales documented in those waters.” The restriction would cost the industry millions of dollars.

Maine lobstermen are no strangers to conservation. The entire industry is built around taking in a way that doesn’t damage the environment, so that they can continue to fish and lobster for generations to come. Brown explained all of the different ways that the industry already protects right whales: “Our industry has replaced all floating rope with sinking rope to reduce the risk to right whales. We put weak links designed to break away in the unlikely event of an entanglement… We’ve reduced the number of end lines over the years and in the process removed over 30,000 miles of rope from the gulf of Maine. We mark all of our gear with unique purple markings, so that in the unlikely event of an entanglement, we know exactly where that entanglement occurred. And most recently, we closed over 967 square miles of prime fishing grounds from lobster fishing to protect right whales.”

Despite the best efforts of Maine lobstermen to protest or work with the federal government, the draconian regulations are still seemingly inevitable. Governor Janet Mills wrote a letter to NOAA calling their rules “entirely unfair that Maine lobstermen and women continue to be the primary target of burdensome regulations.” Mills has also criticized Whole Foods and Seafood Watch for their recent moves against the lobster industry.McCarron, who is leading an attempt to get the problematic laws changed, urges supporters to visit SaveMaineLobstermen.org to see how they can help. The entire talk, which provides a wealth of information and discussion, can be found on the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce’s YouTube channel.

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