Guest Column: some good news arrives for Maine lobstermen

2020 has been one for the books. The bad news has been relentless. But, fortunately, there’s been some good news along the way.


Good News in the Courts
In August we learned that United States District Judge Lance E. Walker issued an order denying a motion for interim injunctive relief from litigant Max Strahan. Strahan had requested, in part, that the Court issue a preliminary injunction to prevent DMR and NOAA from licensing any fishing gear utilizing vertical buoy ropes in both state and federal waters.
In August we also learned that District Judge James Boasberg ruled that NMFS, not the court, should manage this fishery by giving the agency more time to render a new Biological Opinion. This ruling will provide the time necessary to ensure protections for right whales and the continued viability of Maine’s critically important lobster industry. Both decisions recognize that these critically important management decisions should be in the hands of NMFS and fishermen, not the courts.


An Engaged Industry
I’m proud to see how Maine lobstermen have remained engaged in the process leading up to the proposed federal whale rule. Despite restrictions from COVID-19 on in-person meetings, there has been excellent participation in zone council sub-committee meetings over video conference technology. Plans resulting from these meetings will be voted on by each zone council. The outcome of those votes will become a part of our agency comments on the proposed rule. We know that there were concerns with the Maine draft plan and I appreciate and support the zone councils giving us the needed information pertaining to the fishing complexities within their home zone.
I anticipate the proposed rule will be published soon and encourage every one of you to make sure your voice is heard when the opportunity for public comment is provided.


Relief is on the Way
CARES Act — Negotiations with NOAA on our CARES Act spend plan have just been completed. As I indicated earlier this month, we were initially led to believe that we could certify that the whole lobster industry had experienced the required revenue loss, making each harvester eligible and greatly simplifying the application process. But this is 2020. Nothing is easy.
DMR’s landings program has done a tremendous amount of work to verify the loss experienced by individual harvesters so you don’t have to go through this difficult and time-consuming process. Soon, we will be reaching out by mail and email to let you know if our records indicate that you have experienced the required revenue loss, or if our records show that you haven’t. If our landings data shows you haven’t experienced the required loss of revenue and you are therefore ineligible, you’ll be able to appeal that finding as part of the application process.
We’re also using a small portion of the CARES Act money to help Maine’s seafood industry deal with the market loss and consumer trends resulting from COVID-19 by developing a branding and promotion program. By highlighting the attributes that make Maine seafood exceptional, by helping consumers find it, and by helping them understand how to prepare it at home, the promotion and branding effort will help address both the challenge and opportunity presented by COVID-19.
USDA trade relief —You may have already read about relief for Maine fishermen coming from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program is intended to compensate fishermen for losses resulting from China’s retaliatory tariffs.
We’ve been working with USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Maine to help fishermen navigate the application process. This relief fund will provide Maine lobstermen who have a valid 2020 license and had 2019 landings 50 cents for every pound harvested in 2019. This is good news for an industry that has suffered under the weight of more than its fair share of challenges.


Communications from DMR
In September I sent an email out to the industry regarding communications. It is clear that COVID has created challenges on this front. Webinars don’t allow for those sidebar chats that also allow the department to help communicate issues beyond the focus of a specific call.
I have directed staff to pull together monthly communications that will be sent out via email to help keep information flowing. If ever you have issues, you know how to find us, and I would encourage you to reach out.
Like I said, 2020 is one for the books. But in the face of unprecedented global market loss, you’ve worked hard to change how you do business. And you’ve continued to lean into the challenge of more regulations and worked with DMR on ways to protect whales and preserve the future of this industry.
Despite the uncertainty of the past 10 months and based on what I have observed from this industry, it looks as though there is a light at the end of the tunnel.


Here’s to 2021!

Letter to industry on CARES funds
DMR anticipates that letters to fishermen will be mailed by about October 9, arriving during the week of October 12. The application period will begin on October 19. The letter and an FAQ will explain what information each fisherman will need, allowing time to get organized before the application period begins. Also, it’s important to note that the letters will only give a determination of whether the individual is eligible to apply or not; it will not include the percentage of loss found for each individual.

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