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Maine Lobstermen’s Association 70th Annual Meeting

Maine Lobstermen's Association members gathered to celebrate the organization's 70th annual meeting on March 1 at the Samoset Resort in Rockport. Meeting attendance was up sharply compared to recent years. The meeting commemorated MLA’s anniversary and highlighted the association’s groundbreaking achievements.

It was standing room only at the MLA's 70th annual meeting in March. MLA photo.

The meeting opened with remarks by Senator Susan Collins, Senator Angus King, and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree via video congratulating the MLA on its 70th anniversary. MLA Board president Kristan Porter welcomed attendees and members of the board. He recognized the board’s years of stalwart effort to prevent the destruction of the fishery by standing up to ill-conceived federal regulations designed to protect North Atlantic right whales, efforts that culminated in the MLA’s extraordinary court victory in 2023. “I can’t express how much time the board put into this. I am grateful to them,” he said.

MLA members then elected new Board members: Brian Billings of Deer Isle, Andy Havener of Friendship, Adam Gamage of Walpole, and Richard Howland of Islesford. Porter thanked exiting Board members Jack Merrill, Dustin Delano, Jamien Hallowell, and John Williams for their tremendous service to the industry.

MLA unveiled a new video highlighting the importance of the lobster fishery to the state and the MLA’s role in shaping the successful industry we have today through its 70 years of service.

MLA Policy Director Patrice McCarron gave an overview of the past year’s accomplishments. The MLA won its lawsuit, earning a unanimous opinion from the Washington D.C. Appellate Court in June 2023. This historic victory means that NMFS can no longer assume only the worst case scenarios when assessing the impact of the lobster fishery on the right whale population. Instead, it must assess scenarios that are “reasonably certain” to occur as required under the Endangered Species Act. The court wrote that the government’s “legal reasoning” to give deference to right whales under the Endangered Species Act “was not just wrong; it was egregiously wrong.”

There will be no new measures imposed on the lobster fishery to protect right whales until the end of 2028, thanks to the heroic efforts of Maine’s Congressional delegation. A new Biological Opinion and Whale Rule, based on realistic assumptions, must be in place by the beginning of 2029.

“We lived to see another day,” McCarron said. “This achievement would not have been possible without the MLA.” She thanked DMR for its assistance, noting how unusual it is for a state agency to intervene in a legal matter on the side of an industry organization such as the MLA.

McCarron explained that the MLA has been active in the court case brought in 2018 by four national environmental groups against NMFS. The groups argued that the agency had not gone far enough to protect right whales and won a favorable court ruling which would have required lobstermen to endure a 90% risk reduction in 2024. The court dismissed the case in January 2024 and vacated all of the rulings related to the 2021 Biological Opinion citing MLA’s legal victory.

The MLA sued the Monterey Aquarium in 2023 over the Aquarium’s “red listing” of lobster in 2022. That case has been fully briefed since August 2023 and the parties are waiting to hear next steps.

Ready Seafood's Curt Brown, left, and former MLA president Dave Cousens catch up at the annual meeting. MLA phto.

Regarding offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine, the MLA worked with its industry partners to successfully rally lobstermen, Governor Mills, and the state’s Congressional Delegation to collectively say “No” to any wind leases in LMA1. “This is an unprecedented victory for the lobster fishery. Excluding LMA1 means no industrial wind farms will be built where you fish. This is huge,” McCarron said. She also mentioned the MLA’s ongoing project with the Responsible Offshore Development Association (RODA) and Lobster Institute called the Maine Lobster Knowledge Trust, established under the Fisheries Knowledge Trust. The project is collecting and analyzing fishermen’s TimeZero and Olex data to inform management issues. Fishermen continue to own the data and decide how that data is used and presented. “It’s a groundbreaking project,” McCarron said.

DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher next addressed the audience. He spoke first about the effects of the fierce January storms. “I flew over the coast, talked to people. The thing I heard most often was ‘We’ve never seen anything like this before.’” Keliher said. Estimates put the damage to public and private property along the coast at $70.3 million. Governor Mills introduced LD 2225 to provide $50 million for repairs along the coast.

Concerning right whales, Keliher explained that the 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided $26 million to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and $20 million the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for research activities. $17 million of the ASMFC funds went to DMR to create its own risk evaluation computer model, gather data to modify NMFS’s existing Decision Support Tool, and invest in developing management tools for risk reduction.

DMR is also expanding its passive acoustic monitoring program to better understand where right whales are along the Maine coast. DMR has stationed 26 buoys in a grid across Maine’s state and federal waters, crossing into Area 3. These buoys will listen for whales year-round, hauled in and replaced every four months, complementing a large east coast array managed by a variety of states and institutions. DMR will also conduct boat-based visual surveys for whales, both inshore and offshore, as well as monthly and bimonthly aerial surveys throughout the coast. In addition, DMR received $5 million from NFWF to put together a gear library to allow lobstermen to try on-demand gear in order to determine what works and what does not work.

Having timely and accurate data on where and when right whales are found is to the lobster fishery’s benefit, Keliher said. “Getting better whale data is important. We say there are no whales in the closed area [annual October through January closed area] and the data show that,” Keliher said, referencing the website.

Keliher then announced the preliminary numbers for the 2023 lobster season. Maine lobstermen landed 93,734,116 pounds with an average price per pound of $4.95. Total value of the catch was $464,371,720, an increase of $72 million from 2022.

Keliher shifted the discussion to the increase in the minimum gauge required by ASMFC beginning in January 2025. The increase comes after a 39% decline in juvenile lobster abundance was documented by the ASMFC in October 2023. “There will be a short-term effect to the catch but the goal is to improve the long-term viability of the fishery,” Keliher said. “This is scary, I get it. Think of it as an insurance policy.”

The ASMFC is considering Addendum 30, which seeks to clarify that foreign imports of lobster smaller than the new LMA 1 minimum gauge size will not be allowed in order to comply with the Mitchell Provision of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Patrice McCarron chats with former board member Dwight Carver and his grandson. MLA photo.

Keliher went on to detail challenges facing Maine’s lobster fishery. He summarized these as wind, whales, sustainability, and federal waters aquaculture. He told the audience that whale advocate Max Strahan filed a 60-day notice to sue DMR for the death of the right whale found on Martha’s Vineyard in January. The rope found on the whale had a purple wire tie on it, identifying it as Maine lobster rope.

Finally, Keliher spoke about the connection between lobstermen and DMR and the need for both sides to step up and do better. “Many states don’t have the interconnection with industry that we have in Maine. But lately people have said to me that we aren’t listening. I believe that when we have tough conversations we have better results. But less than 100 people commented on the gauge change. No one is coming to the lobster zone council meetings and to hearings,” he said. “If we are not doing good by you, you tell us. It’s as easy as that. Screaming that the science sucks gets us nowhere.”

People in the audience then asked Commissioner Keliher questions. One had to do with the number of juveniles being found by lobstermen in their traps and the need for observers to record what lobstermen are finding. “Yes, and we are talking about that. We’ve got some money now and we can do that. That way when you are hauling we are seeing what you are seeing,” Keliher replied.

Another person asked about the consequences to lobstermen from the dead right whale found on Martha’s Vineyard. “The uncertainty around the whale is a real concern. The whale had already been seen entangled. NOAA considered it dead. How the death will be used against us, I don’t know,” Keliher said.

McCarron pointed out that this is the first time a death has been associated with Maine gear. “Right now NMFS assumes we are responsible for about five right whale deaths each year [under the MMMA/ESA] so a single death is still well below that. And right whale births are now outpacing deaths. It’s really positive for the species,” she said.

President Porter then asked MLA Board member Chris Welch to come forward. Welch presented the MLA’s Golden V-notch award to Kennebunk fisherman and MLA board member Laurin Brooks, who he called his mentor and friend. Brooks has been a long-time advocate for southern Maine lobstermen attending countless meetings and ensuring their concerns have been heard.

Porter thanked everyone in attendance. “Thank you for coming. There is strength in numbers. This Association is a solid voice and has been here for 70 years. To keep that voice strong, become a member!”


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