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Another Major Legal Victory for Maine Lobstermen


Photo by B. Wish.

On January 29, Judge James Boasberg of the D.C. District Court dismissed all claims in a long-running lawsuit filed by environmental groups (ENGOs) that would have resulted in closures of the Maine lobster industry. He also vacated multiple interim rulings in the lawsuit the ENGOs had sought to preserve for future legal fights.


Maine lobstermen were facing a devastating 90% risk reduction this year, as a result of the D.C. District Court’s earlier rulings in favor of the ENGOs. The ENGO case was originally filed in 2018, challenging the 2014 Biological Opinion, and amended in 2021, challenging the 2021 Biological Opinion.

The Court faulted both Biological Opinions as well as the Final Rule implemented in May 2022. Those rulings cleared the way for NMFS to aggressively pursue a new Final Rule that would have had even more punishing measures for the lobster fishery.

However, lobstermen were spared the trap reductions, fishery closures, loss of endlines, and expansion of weak rope requirements that a new Final Rule would have imposed as a result of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s (MLA) historic win on appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court last June and the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) in December 2022.

"This is another huge victory for Maine's lobster fishery and it would not have happened

without the persistent effort of the MLA and its legal team." Photo by Cheryl Chegg.


In a last-ditch effort to keep their legal challenges against the lobster fishery alive following rejection by the appellate court, the ENGOs opposed the efforts by NMFS, MLA, Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and other intervenors to dismiss the ENGOs’ case and nullify the Court’s prior rulings. The Court was not persuaded.

“Such flimsy material — conjured up at the eleventh hour — cannot mend the hole in Plaintiffs’ sinking ship,” wrote Judge Boasberg.

“For six years now, Plaintiff conservation groups have battled with the National Marine Fisheries Service over regulations that they believe are woefully insufficient to save the dwindling North Atlantic right-whale population from death or injury caused by entanglement in lobster-fishing gear. Twice, this Court has awarded summary judgment in their favor,” wrote Judge Boasberg.


“The tide has recently turned in the lobstermen’s favor, however. Coming to their aid, Congress has since enacted legislation declaring that NMFS’s existing regulations are “sufficient” through 2028, while the agency explores novel technological solutions and crafts new rules potentially incorporating them,” noted Judge Boasberg. “And the D.C. Circuit has since ruled in the lobstermen’s favor in a related case, vacating the agency’s most recent biological opinion as being too fishing restrictive.”


“The lobster industry was facing elimination because of the previous rulings from the D.C. District Court. MLA left no stone unturned in working to see this case dismissed and its decisions vacated,” said Patrice McCarron, MLA’s policy director.

“This is another huge victory for Maine’s lobster fishery and it would not have happened without the persistent efforts of the MLA and its legal team.”

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