MLA Files Motion To Enter Court Case

As it has during its 64-year history, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) is once again seeking a place at the table for Maine’s lobstermen in the face of potentially crippling new regulations from federal fisheries managers. The MLA filed its motion on May 30 to become an intervener in a legal suit brought against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) by the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife and the Conservation Law Foundation. That suit (the two cases were consolidated into one in May) demands that NMFS complete an Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 review of the American lobster fishery within 60 days, asserting that NMFS is in violation of the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) for not adequately protecting North Atlantic right whales.
“Becoming an intervener gives the MLA status in the case, providing access to the court proceedings and documents. If the case moves to a decision point, the MLA will have a voice in that process,” explained Patrice McCarron, executive director of the MLA.
This isn’t the first time that the MLA has taken part in the legal process on behalf of its members. In 2007 it also filed successfully to be an intervener in a legal suit brought by the Humane Society and the Oceans Conservancy against NMFS to force the agency to release regulations regarding right whale protections. As a court-recognized intervener, the MLA participated in mediation to reach a settlement in the suit.
“The MLA Board believes it is essential that MLA have standing in this court case. Maine lobstermen must be represented since they are likely to be the subjects of any additional regulations that may be imposed,” explained McCarron.
Since 1997, the MLA has worked tirelessly through the Take Reduction Team (TRT) process to find commonsense methods to protect right whales and to keep lobstermen in business and safe on the water. While the switch from floating to sinking groundlines between traps proved challenging and expensive for lobstermen, they have complied with that rule since 2009. In the years following, the MLA worked closely with the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and Maine lobstermen to craft a proposal to minimize the risk of vertical lines to right whales. In 2014, NMFS accepted Maine’s proposal for lobstermen to combine their traps into trawls in certain sections of the coast in order to remove vertical lines from the water. Due to Maine’s proactive approach, the state averted closure of Jeffrey’s Ledge and Jordan Basin, instead adopting additional gear marking requirements for those areas. NMFS estimates that lobstermen’s efforts have removed over 27,000 miles of groundline and 2,740 miles of vertical lines from the water.
Through the pending legal action, the environmental organizations want NMFS to review the data used for its 2014 biological opinion on the lobster fishery, which found that the fishery did not jeopardize right whales. The plaintiffs contend that the right whale population’s decline since 2010, from 483 animals to 458, the similar decline in birth rates since 2010, and the unprecedented number of right whale deaths in Canadian and U.S. waters in 2017 indicate that significant changes have taken place in the population and that the data informing the biological opinion should be updated.
“You never know how the court will respond. Courts typically defer to the regulatory agency with specialized expertise, in this case NMFS and the TRT,” McCarron said. “But the court could require the parties to agree on a remedy or on procedures to craft a remedy. The MLA wants to be sure that Maine lobstermen are represented regardless of how this case proceeds.”
By achieving intervener status, the MLA preserves its right to be part of the process. “Make no mistake, the MLA is definitely on the front line in this debate,” McCarron said.

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