Governor pushes back federal authorities on rare whale protection


Maine Governor Janet Mills says federal directive to protect endangered right whales is “absurd federal overshoot”

PORTLAND, Maine – A directive for new protections for endangered right whales represents “absurd federal scope” that places an unfair burden on Maine’s iconic lobster fishery, Governor Janet Mills said.

She ordered the State Department of Marine Resources to draft an alternative plan that would reduce the impact on lobster fishermen.

“My administration will not allow any bureaucrat to undermine our lobster industry or our economy with stupid, unsupported and ill-advised regulations,” she wrote in a letter this week to the lobster industry.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants the state to present a plan in September to reduce the threat the lobster industry poses to right whales by 60%.

The plan would mean halving the number of lobster trap lines that could entangle whales. A weaker rope would also be needed for traps in federal waters.

But the Democratic governor says Maine’s lobster industry is not the “main problem” and that there is a “worrying lack of evidence” linking it to recent right whale deaths. Six have died in recent weeks in Canadian waters.

She said she “would stand up for the Maine lobster industry in the face of the federal government’s absurd excess.”

The Maine congressional delegation, which backs Mills, said a “science-based and fair solution” is needed to protect the whales, of which there are about 400.

Maine officials say the burden on lobster boats is unfair because most right whales swim further offshore, away from the thousands of lobster traps in Maine waters. So it doesn’t make sense to impose drastic restrictions that could jeopardize the state’s lucrative lobster fishery, they say.

Scientists in Maine will revisit the matter and submit a plan in September, but it won’t necessarily look like the original proposal from a NOAA team, said Jeff Nichols, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

“We are acting on the governor’s directive to reassess the data and come back in September with a plan that includes a harm reduction target more commensurate with what’s happening in Maine waters,” he said. Friday.

NOAA issued a statement saying it was “disappointed” that Maine could “unilaterally” opt out of a process that included Maine participants on the panel that made the initial recommendations to the agency.

Presenting a plan is another step in the process of creating new rules to protect right whales. The goal is to have the rules in place by 2021.

The proposed trapline restrictions come at a difficult time for lobster boats. A warming ocean has raised concerns about the long-term health of the fishery, and a shortage of herring used as bait is causing concern for lobster boats this summer.

Most of the American lobster catch arrives on the Maine shore, where lobster boats landed nearly 120 million pounds (54 million kilograms) last year.


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