For over sixty years the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) has represented the state’s lobster ﬁshery in the same way: attending countless meetings, hundreds of hours of legislative and regulatory hearings, and meeting with Maine’s Congressional delegation. Over the years we have gotten pretty good at it. We’ve had some wins and a few defeats but we know the system and how it works.
But as most of you know the way we are being targeted now by outside interests has changed. Environmental organizations and individuals now use the court system to get what they want. With huge war chests these environmental groups are determined to inﬂuence policy with lawsuit after lawsuit. This is not an area that the MLA as an association typically participates in, but the MLA board decided almost two years ago that we can no longer sit on the sidelines and not have a voice in our fate.
In 2018 the board voted to intervene in the lawsuit brought by four national environmental organizations against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), knowing that to do so would be expensive but hoping that the lobster industry would step up as needed. As the old saying goes, “You don’t take a knife to a gun ﬁght.” We knew that to be effective we needed a great legal team and the best expert witnesses to tell our side of the story. And for that, we needed money.
We also chose to intervene in the lawsuit brought in August 2019 by Max “Prince of Whales” Strahan against the Department of Marine Resources and NMFS in Bangor federal court. Strahan wants to prohibit the use of all vertical lines in the lobster fishery in order to protect right whales.
To go to court is not a decision made lightly. We knew it certainly wasn’t going to be cheap. But thanks to so many generous donations to the MLA’s Legal Defense Fund by numerous individuals and businesses we have been able to make sure industry’s voice is heard. In late August, Judge Boasberg ruled that NMFS will have until May 31, 2021, to complete its Biological Opinion under the Endangered Species Act on whether the New England lobster fishery puts right whales in jeopardy and to draft an Incidental Take Statement for right whales. The decision is a strong one that keeps the fishery open through the year and into next spring. It came about largely because the MLA made clear to the judge the economic and cultural importance of the lobster industry and lobstermen’s long-standing protection measures related to right whales.
I want to take this opportunity to personally thank all those who have donated to the Legal Defense Fund. Without you the lobster fishery’s point of view would not have been heard by the court. I am amazed at the generosity of so many ﬁshermen, businesses, and nonﬁshing individuals who have given money because they know how much the coast of Maine stands to lose both ﬁnancially and traditionally if the lobster industry is forever changed.
I also want to take this opportunity to ask those who haven’t given yet to consider doing so. I understand those lobstermen who are independent and reluctant to join any association, but in this legal attack on the lobster fishery no single individual can effectively represent his or her interests, it’s just too expensive. Just a small donation from each of the 4000-plus commercial lobster license-holders annually would result in a pretty good pool of funds to draw from. The environmentalists have been driving this issue for way too long. It’s time for the lobster industry to invest so that we can do more than just respond to their agenda.
And if anyone thinks that once these two cases are ruled on it is all over…. think again! We still have a long way to go to ensure that the Maine lobster fishery can continue to operate without posing a threat to right whales and that our kids and grandkids can have the same chances to fish as we had. The reality is that this situation is most likely the new normal. A new lawsuit to protect endangered right whales could and probably will be ﬁled at any time. Regardless, as we have during the past 66 years, the MLA, with your help, will continue to stand ready to defend our way of life!