A federal judge has given our Boothbay lobstermen an early Christmas present. Maine lobstermen and federal fishing regulators now have two years before implementing strict rules to protect endangered right whales, a federal judge ruled.
“This is good news. It buys us more time,” said Ryan Casey, a Boothbay Harbor lobsterman. "But they still want us to take our gear out of the water. That is the problem.”
The delay allows the lobster fishery some stability by permitting it to keep operating as all stakeholders continue their shared work of implementing corrective measures to secure the future of the right whale in the long term, the court said. District Judge James E. Boasberg issued the delay, saying the parties are making a good-faith effort to bridge their differences.
In his order, issued Thursday, Nov. 17, the jurist noted as federal rules are designed to protect right whales, they pose a significant threat to the Maine lobster fishing industry.
Maine’s Congressional leaders also oppose the federal regulations, citing the harm to the state’s most iconic industry.
The judge’s ruling also said there appear to be open questions concerning the specific benefits that would accompany these rules that impose great costs on the lobster fishing industry.
Conservation groups admit it is unlikely major technological advances, such as ropeless fishing gear, can be implemented before 2030, the ruling said. The judge ruled another reason for the delay is that facts on the ground are shifting rapidly as new data emerges on right whale migratory patterns, mortality factors, technological change, and more.
Thus, the judge wrote, it is prudent to wait for as much information as possible before making a decision in this consequential matter.
The delay is a win for a local industry recently hammered by two national groups urging the public to avoid buying and eating Maine lobsters. Last week, Marine Stewardship Council recommended consumers avoid Maine lobsters because lobster fishing gear threatens the whales. However, they admitted: “The most recent assessment by the assessor, no evidence was found that the Maine lobster fishery is responsible for entanglements or interactions with right whales."
Earlier, Monterey Bay Aquarium advised consumers to avoid Maine lobsters because the fishing gear could harm whales. But they offered no evidence to back their statement, which said the U.S. government has made it clear that the fact that right whales have not been identified in any recent interactions with lobstermen does not mean mortalities don’t occur.
Notice what that statement does not say. It does not say there is strong evidence Maine lobstermen are harming the endangered whales. It does not say there is some evidence of harm. It does not say there might be some evidence, or even that there is a teeny-weenie, itsy bitsy shred of evidence Maine lobstermen are harming right whales.
No, this outfit says there is no evidence, none, nada, zip evidence that the Maine lobster fishers are harming the right whales, but they are guilty anyway. So, despite the lack of evidence, they wanted to shut down an entire iconic Maine industry and bar fishermen from Boothbay, Bristol, Damariscotta and the rest of the coast from earning a living and feeding their families.
And that is just plain wrong.