Details emerge in potential whale rule lawsuit

HALLOWELL — In response to a Freedom of Access Act request filed by the Mount Desert Islander last week, state officials released the notice of intent to sue filed Aug. 1 on behalf of the Maine Lobstering Union by attorney Kim Ervin Tucker of Lincolnville.

At issue are health and safety concerns and the economic impact of regulations on lobster fishing gear intended to reduce the frequency or severity of whale entanglements.

The notice is addressed to officials at the Department of Commerce, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries office. The rules in question were issued in 2008 and in June of this year. The letter from Tucker is a notice of intent to sue and “petition for rescission or amendment of certain provisions” in the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Program (AWLTRP). AWLTRP falls under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act in federal law.

Tucker’s letter claims the NMFS “failed to consider increased human safety risks and the adverse impact of these rules, in combination, on the human environment” violating the Administrative Procedures Act, Regulatory Fairness Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The alleged violations are “providing too short a comment period” for the Environmental Impact Statement related to the 2014 rules and “failing to adequately consider comments.” New provisions, she argues, are “arbitrary and capricious” and “impose disproportionate safety and economic impacts on smaller vessel lobstermen.”

The letter includes specific requests for “rescission and amendment” of the Vertical Line Final Rule. The island buffer zone could be stretched further from the shore and extended to additional Penobscot Bay and Isles of Shoals islands. There’s a request to reduce the trap-per-trawl limit at the six-to-12-mile distance from shore from ten to five, to abandon gear marking requirement.

Small vessels are unable to handle safely the larger trap-per-trawl minimums, the letter says, and a petition mechanism for those vessels to fish shorter trawls could be added to the rule.

A local leader of the Maine Lobstering Union declined to comment on the suit last week, but confirmed the organization is very concerned about the safety impacts of the rules.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.