Mills calls on feds to delay lobster gear marking changes

AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills asked federal officials to reduce the economic harm that will result from parts of the new rules for lobster fishery that are being put in place to help protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.  

“It is entirely unfair that Maine lobstermen continue to be the primary target of burdensome regulations, despite the many effective mitigation measures they have taken and despite the data showing that ship strikes and Canadian fishing gear continue to pose the most significant risk to right whales,” Mills wrote in a letter to the secretary of Commerce on Sept. 24. 

Mills cited issues with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s new rules for gear marking that were different than initially proposed and different from the current rules that Maine adopted proactively. Fishermen and state officials have said that the new requirements conflict with state ones and some fishermen will need to have a second set of fishing gear to be able to comply. The Governor said the gear marking requirements are “troubling” and “disregard fishermen’s time, money and safety.”  

With the potential for significant revenue losses, Mills called for a delay in the gear marker implementation date, from May 1 to July 1, 2022.  

“Due to the NOAA deadline, gear will need to be brought back to port in March or April, when the price of lobster is very high,” she wrote. “The Maine Lobstermen’s Association estimates this lost opportunity will impact the majority of federally permitted fishermen, causing in an estimated revenue loss of $15-25 million.” 

Mills didn’t believe the rule as written should take effect at all but asked, at the very least, that NOAA push out the start date, which would align with the traditional movement of fishing gear closer to shore.  

“While Maine has identified numerous other concerns with the assumptions made about economic impacts from this rule, the complete lack of analysis on this issue is more than sufficient reason to take swift action to reduce the economic harm caused to Maine fishermen,” she wrote.  

Other pieces of the rule, including a seasonal offshore closure, have also been panned by fishermen and the state has said it plans to seek intervenor status in an ongoing federal lawsuit over the lobster fishery.  

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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