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MLA Earns Historic Win for Maine's Lobster Industry: How Did We Get Here?

Click here for details on this historic win!

Spring 2017 – National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) publishes new model in May which determines that the right whale population has been in decline since 2010; declares an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for right whales in June.

October 2017 – NMFS starts Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation to determine if the lobster fishery jeopardizes the recovery of the right whale population. A jeopardy finding could close the lobster fishery.

January 2018 – Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Humane Society of the United States file a lawsuit against NMFS in Washington, D.C. District Court accusing it of violating the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The complaint seeks an emergency injunction to force NMFS to replace its 2014 Biological Opinion. Conservation Law Foundation and Earth Justice file a similar complaint. The cases are consolidated into one lawsuit in March. Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) and Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association (MaLA) granted intervenor status in May.

April 2020 – D.C. District Court judge James Boasberg rules in agreement with the environmental groups in a summary judgment, finding that NMFS violated the ESA. In August, the Judge orders NMFS to issue a new Biological Opinion for North American lobster and nine other groups of species by May 31, 2021.

August 2020 – The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) suspends its certification of the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery after seven years.

May 2021 – NMFS issues a new Biological Opinion for the lobster fishery that gives the industry 10 years to reduce entanglement risk to right whales by 98%.

September 2021 – The MLA files a lawsuit in Washington D.C. District Court challenging NMFS’s Biological Opinion, claiming it acted arbitrarily and failed to use the best scientific information. MLA is joined by the state of Maine and Maine Lobstering Union as intervenors.

NMFS establishes final whale rules, to be implemented by May 2022, that include requiring more traps on each buoy line, 1,700 lb. weak links in remaining buoy lines, closing off large fishing areas, and requiring expanded gear markings which differentiate gear fished in state versus federal waters.

October 2021 – MSC renews the certification status of the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery, a response to NMFS issuing the new Biological Opinion.

June 2022 – A third party auditor determines that the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery meets the requirements of a sustainable fishery and recommends recertification with MSC. The certification is due to expire in January 2023.

July 2022 – Judge Boasberg issues ruling in favor of conservation groups that NMFS still hasn’t done enough to satisfy the ESA or MMPA with its Biological Opinion issued in May 2021 or its final rule issued in September 2021.

September 2022 – Judge Boasberg rules against the MLA in an opinion that deferred to NMFS on all counts without disputing the validity of the MLA’s concerns. The Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) moves North American lobster from its yellow “good alternative” rating to its red “avoid” listing.

October 2022 – MLA hires renowned appellate attorney, Paul Clement, to represent it in its appeal.

November 2022 – MSC drops the lobster fishery’s certification yet again, citing Boasberg’s July 2022 decision. Judge Boasberg requires NMFS to publish a new whale rule to further reduce risk from NE lobster fisheries by December 2024.

December 2022 – Congress includes provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act that require NMFS to wait until December 31, 2028, before implementing and enforcing new lobster fishing restrictions and states that the fishery is in compliance with the ESA and MMPA during that time.

February 2023 – MLA and NMFS make their arguments before the US Court of Appeals.

March 2023 – MLA sues Monterey Bay Aquarium for defamation.

June 2023 – Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit renders its opinion, siding with MLA, and repealing Judge Boasberg’s ruling. The Appeals Court vacates the Biological Opinion and Whale Rule and orders Judge Boasberg to require NMFS to develop a new Whale Rule and Biological Opinion without using worst-case scenarios and pessimistic assumptions. It keeps the current rules in place for the lobster fishery until December 31, 2028.

Click here for details on this historic win!


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