Maine Lobstermen Push Back Against New Whale Laws

by Lauren Boisvert
(Image Credit: David Wood/Getty Images)

Lobster fishermen in Maine are already salty about the American lobster being added to the “red list.” But now they’ve hired a former Department of Justice official to represent them in a case against the new whale protection laws. The Maine Lobsterman’s Association is appealing its case against the new laws to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They stated recently that they’ve hired Paul Clement, who served as US solicitor general from 2004 to 2008.

The solicitor general, according to a report from Seacoast Online, oversees all US Supreme Court litigation. Clement argued many cases in front of the Supreme Court, and believes that’s where the lobstermen’s case could head there. He also stated that the new regulations have brought the lobster fishing industry to the brink.

“You have administrative overreach. The implications are easy to understand,” he said. “It directly threatens really one of the most iconic American industries. Everyone who has ever enjoyed a lobster can appreciate this.”

The Maine Lobsterman’s Association sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, and requested that they not place the regulations and restrictions on fishing. In September, a judge denied that request.

The restrictions are put in place to protect the North Atlantic right whale. The right whale numbers less than 350, and has been considered endangered since 1970. Under the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan from the NOAA, the new requirements affect “gear marking, weak rope and inserts, and trawl length,” according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Lobstermen Hire Former Bush-Era DOJ Official to Represent Their Cast Against New Whale Laws

The Maine Lobsterman’s Association filed papers on Tuesday, Oct. 11, to expedite their case. They cited the delicate nature of lobster fishing and the jeopardy posed to their livelihood by the new requirements on where and how they can fish.

Environmentalists and conservation groups have long fought for the protection of the right whale. Commercial whale hunters devastated the population and there are less than 100 breeding female right whales left. The number of calves born has been far below average in recent years as well.

While commercial whale hunting is no longer a threat, there are many human interactions that still threaten the species. The right whale is prone to entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes. Additionally, researchers suspect the increased ocean noise from human involvement interferes with the whales’ communication and causes them stress.

New Rules To Protect the North Atlantic Right Whale

The new requirements and regulations restrict where and how lobster fishermen can work. The new rules went into effect on May 1, 2022. They affect how fishermen label their gear, the use of weak links or rope and sinking groundline, the minimum number of traps on each trawl, and also include seasonal area closures.

The waters are also regulated, according to the Take Reduction Plan Regulations and Emergency Regulations document, received from the National Archives Code of Federal Regulations. The new rules apply to US Atlantic waters, the northeast region, and the six-mile line from Machias Seal to Provincetown. The exempted waters are any waters landward of the COLREGS demarcation lines (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) with exceptions, and Maine waters landward of Quoddy Narrows/U.S.-Canada border to Odiornes Pt., Portsmouth, New Hampshire.