Maine is considering establishing a fund to support members of the lobster industry who are economically suffering due to regulations implemented by the Biden administration.
The $30 million in annual funds will be open for comment during a public hearing on Feb. 1 before being considered by the Maine Legislature during a committee hearing.
Maine is home to America’s most significant lobster industry, valued at approximately $1.6 billion.
In September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a 950 square mile area off the Gulf of Maine would be off-limits to fishermen during October and January. The federal agency said the rule was designed to protect the North American right whale following an increase in “Unusual Mortality [Events]” that left whales injured or dead. NOAA said there are a limited number of whales and they can get caught in fishing lines.
Governor Janet Mills and the state’s congressional delegation pushed back against the announcement, pointing out that there had not been a whale entanglement in more than 20 years.
“We agree that we must protect the fragile right whale population, but we must do so without endangering human lives or livelihoods,” the official said in a joint statement. “It is unacceptable that Maine lobstermen and women continue to be the primary target of burdensome regulations despite the multiple effective mitigation measures they have taken and the data showing that ship strikes and Canadian snow crab gear pose substantially greater risks to right whales.”
Democratic Rep. Holly Stover of Boothbay proposed creating the fund to protect an industry at the core of the state’s economy and cultural identity.
“The lobster industry is an economic driver of our local economy, hands down,” Stover said in a statement. “This is not a fisheries disaster, this is an economic disaster.”
The fund would give grants to fishermen to make boat payments and mortgages or to buy new gear to comply with the new whale rules. It would be regulated by the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said her organization will testify during the public hearing.
McCarron said the state’s government was “recognizing that the lobster industry is being hit hard by the whale rules.”
The rules are currently the subject of a legal challenge. Initially, a lower court ordered an emergency relief to stop the regulation from going into effect. The ban was reinstated in November by a U.S. court of appeals.