Steaming Ahead – September 2022

A few months ago the 10-year right whale conservation plan, which aims to reduce risk to whales by 98% by 2030, seemed a long way off. As a result of a July court ruling on the environmentalists’ lawsuit, now it is staring us right in the face.

I have heard it over and over: “What are they going to do, shut us down? Ha, ha! Like to see ‘em try” or “You guys are crying wolf just to get money from us.” Well, here it is fellas — we basically have six months to come up with more whale conservation measures to comply with the law or we WILL be shut down!

In his July ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Boasberg sided with the environmental organizations by ruling that the Biological Opinion, which allows us to fish, wasn’t valid under the Endangered Species Act. He didn’t shut the fishery down, however. Instead he gave the MLA and the environmental organizations until the end of October to come up with steps to comply with the law or face shut down. The Court issues its ruling after that.

Don’t think for one minute that NMFS would not close the lobster fishery in order to protect right whales. NMFS photo.

Don’t think it can happen? How many Maine shrimp did you buy in the last few years? How many groundfish boats are in your harbor? Did those guys keep fishing no matter what the government said?
Judge Boasberg has stated that he will rule on the MLA’s lawsuit against NOAA by the end of September. The environmental groups are using NMFS’s flawed data and its improper analysis of that data against us. The MLA has challenged this data for years but instead of working with us to fix it, NMFS has dug in its heels trying to defend it. Now the Fisheries Service has painted itself into a corner with not a lot of options to comply with the Judge’s latest order.

Our case is the only thing standing between you and a 90% risk reduction by next spring. This is because the Judge also ruled in the environmentalist case that any change to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan must achieve PBR (potential biological removal) within six months of implementation. And the measures we adopted in May don’t make the cut.

Our case addresses the science behind NMFS’s risk reduction goal, a goal we argue is way too high. Our lawyers have done an unbelievable job laying out all of the ways that that NMFS has taken to overstate the risk lobstermen pose to right whales. Our lawyers have left no stone unturned in giving the Judge what he needs to rule in our favor.

Whether you are an MLA supporter or hater you should realize by now why we stepped up big time a year ago to sue the federal government. It wasn’t a publicity stunt. It was because the MLA board had the foresight to see what was coming and knew we had to do something serious to save this fishery from disaster. We have constructed a formidable legal argument and have no regrets about our strategy. The fight is nowhere near over but a ruling in our favor in this round means everything for how the Maine lobster fishery looks in the future and for a chance to keep our federal fishery.

You might think that this is another article trying to get you to give to the Legal Defense Fund but it is not. It is to let you know that the MLA has your back, as we always have! Like us or not, we are fighting for this lobster fishery and the fishermen and communities that depend on it.

[Editor’s Note: On September 8, 2022, Judge Boasberg issued a decision in Maine Lobstermen’s Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service – ruling against MLA. MLA released this statement: “The federal district court and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have failed Maine’s lobster industry. It has become crystal clear that neither grasp the devastating impacts their decisions will have on the Maine lobster industry, our coastal communities, and the State of Maine. The court’s decision provides a blank check for NMFS to continue to use admitted “worst case scenarios” and disregard actual data in its regulation of a fishery that has zero documented right whale entanglements over the last 18 years. This disappointing decision puts the future of Maine’s lobstering heritage at great risk, and along with it, the livelihoods of thousands of hard-working men and women. But this is not the end. We won’t go down without a fight.”]

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