The loss of just one small business will leave an empty storefront on Main Street and cause a ripple effect that reverberates far beyond downtown. However, Maine faces an oncoming tsunami of federal regulations targeting our lobster industry that threaten to wipe out nearly 5,000 independently-owned, small businesses from Kittery to Eastport and in every rural fishing village in between – leaving a wake of economic destruction behind that will reach far beyond our coastline.
What would this mean to Maine and our economy? Lobster is our state’s top fishery, contributing more than $1 billion to the state’s economy each year. Commercial fishing licenses are held in every island and coastal town in our state. The loss of the lobster industry in communities like Stonington, Cutler, and Jonesport would impact businesses that rely on a strong lobster industry far beyond the working waterfront. The iconic Maine lobster has fueled tourism and economic growth for generations. So, what would the future look like for the next generation of Mainers growing up in towns like Vinalhaven, Friendship, and Harpswell if this way of life ceases to exist?
Make no mistake. Maine lobstermen care about protecting the endangered whale. In fact, we have implemented an array of gear changes to keep the waters off our coast safe for these whales. We’ve implemented measures such as removing thousands of miles of rope from the water, keeping rope off the surface where a whale might feed, putting weak links at the top of our buoy lines so that a whale can break free, and marking our lines so we know if Maine lobster gear is responsible for an entanglement.
And these measures have worked. During the course of 20 years, the right whale population doubled. The last known entanglement in Maine lobster gear happened 18 years ago and that whale survived. In fact, there has never been a known right whale death in Maine lobster gear.
Yet despite our excellent track record, the federal government recently closed nearly one thousand square miles of prime fishing bottom to Maine lobstermen for one-third of the year, and Maine lobstermen will be removing more rope, and further weakening our remaining buoy lines this spring. And our federal waters lobstermen will also be adding additional marks to all of their buoy lines.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) believes the industry’s only hope to survive is to fight. The MLA has filed a lawsuit against National Marine Fisheries Service challenging the scientific basis of its ten-year whale plan with the goal of reworking risk reductions to match the risk posed by Maine’s lobster fishery. And since 2018, the MLA has been an intervenor in the court case filed by environmental groups, which seeks to shut down the lobster fishery.
Suing the federal government is a monumental and unaffordable task for a small organization like the MLA. But we believe it’s our last, best hope. The government’s plan is wrong and not based on sound science. We are looking to the court to hold the federal government accountable and to revise the plan so that it protects whales without eliminating the lobster fishery. We have launched a campaign, www.savemainelobstermen.org, and are asking for partners in this fight.
It’s almost impossible to imagine Maine without a lobster industry. We need all of you who understand its importance and care about this heritage to learn more, and to stand with us, because we believe Maine lobster is an industry worth fighting to save.