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Steaming Ahead - March 2022

Kristan Porter is the president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

As everyone has seen, the value of last year’s catch was record setting, almost $725 million! Even though everything we buy for our business has gone up too, most of us saw a decent increase in income. Probably like me you are putting a portion of that money back into your business, whether it be new traps (if you can get them) or improvements to your boat.

Have you given a thought to an investment in the future of this fishery? All the lobsters on the bottom and the best of price at the dock won’t mean a thing if you can’t go catch them.

I know you are thinking, “The MLA is just crying wolf,” “They always say this stuff and nothing really happens.” The MLA has certainly helped to pull off a few miracles over the years, but this one is different. Our future is written clearly in black and white. NMFS has set a risk reduction goal to protect right whales and a timeline to reach that goal that we MUST meet. If we don’t, the fishery closes. It starts this year with 60% risk reduction, which is why we have to trawl up again, switch to 1700-lb breaking strength rope and have been thrown out of a nearly 1,000-square-mile section of the Gulf. Then by 2025, we must reduce the already minimal risk to whales by another 60%.

To get that next 60%, where do we go? More traps on a trawl? Weaker rope? Bigger closures? I’m not sure anyone has the stomach for any of these. So, what then …fewer traps? According to preliminary runs of the Decision Support Tool, NMFS’s computer model that determines which measures reduce risk to the whales, NMFS is looking at a 200 to 300 trap limit with additional closures.

Please don’t shoot the messenger here, I am just passing along information provided by the government. Let’s just say we get through 2025 and reduce risk by another 60% without going completely out of business. No one should relax at that point because, according to NMFS, we have to reduce risk by another 85% in 2030 on top of all the earlier reductions. Any ideas how we get there? If you don’t, the environmentalists do. It’s called ropeless fishing, the quickest way to put the nail in the coffin of the fishery we now know.

Right now, in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, national environmental organizations are arguing that NMFS’s Biological Opinion — which requires all these reductions — does not go far enough. That’s right, they argue that these measures should go all the way to the beach. Think about that: both state and federal water lobstermen would be held hostage by these harsh and unfair regulations.

From my perspective, there is just one alternative left to us — FIGHT! And that means going to court. We need to force NMFS to issue risk reduction goals that reflect our actual risk to whales. If we don’t, if we wait and see what happens, it will be too late. The life we know, the one we want for our kids and grandkids, is gone.

That is why the MLA has sued NMFS! MLA’s court case is moving forward right now. And that is why the MLA is asking for financial support, not just to make sure its members can go lobstering but so that all of Maine’s lobstermen can fish. To make sure your kids and grandkids can fish. We put together the best legal team available to make the strongest case possible that NMFS acted arbitrarily and capriciously in the Biological Opinion because they chose the worst case scenarios, and not the best available science on right whale and the risks they face. We will not let them get away with this and put us out of business without a fierce fight.

So don’t let it end on our watch. Don’t say, “Man, I wish I had donated back when it mattered.” We are suing NMFS now. And I sure as hell don’t want to hear anyone say they didn’t know what was coming!

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