Lobstermen seek Boothbay’s help in right whale issue

Tue, 05/17/2022 - 2:30pm

    Maine Lobstermen Association is seeking allies against new federal regulations protecting right whales in the northern Atlantic Ocean. MLA is seeking a “war chest” in excess of $10 million to reverse National Marine Fisheries Service guidelines designed to protect the endangered right whale. 

    MLA is soliciting donations from coastal Maine communities whose economies rely on the lobstering industry. Boothbay lobstermen Mark Jones and Troy Plummer are MLA board members. On May 11, the two solicited Boothbay selectmen for a contribution. “This is a federal lawsuit based on how they calculated the risks associated with right whale. Their models overcalculated the risk posed by lobstering and are nonsense,” Jones said. “The federal government has all but ignored us, and don’t think we will fight back.”
    According to an Aug. 2021 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s statement on their website, “The NOAA Fisheries and our partners are dedicated to conserving and rebuilding the North Atlantic right whale population, which is endangered and declining. The decline began in 2010, and accelerated most notably when 17 mortalities were documented in 2017, leading to the declaration of an ongoing Unusual Mortality Event. Since then, 34 right whales have died and 16 have been seriously injured, primarily due to entanglements and vessel strikes.
    Jones and Plummer told selectmen environmental groups with deep dockets are pushing for more stringent right whale protections. They described three groups with large lobbying budgets pursuing even stricter fishing regulations. “We’re definitely outgunned in this battle. There are three environmental groups. One raises $15 million per year. Another $22 million, and a third with $80 million. So we need help in this fight,” Plummer said.
    So far, MLA has received donations ranging from $100 to $10,000 for their legal defense fund. Among contributors are the town of York, with a $10,000 contribution, along with Friendship, Long Island, Casco Bay  and Vinalhaven. The lobstermen also reported Maine Chamber of Commerce Maine Office of Tourism and Ready Bros. Lobster Processing in Casco contributed to their fund. 
    Selectmen asked what support the state provided to their fight. The lobstermen responded state government had provided a small contribution, but they joined  the lawsuit as an intervenor’s status. Board Chairman Dale Harmon asked the lobstermen “how large of a contribution are you seeking?” The lobstermen responded “Whatever you feel you can afford.” 
    The board recommended lobstermen seek a financial contribution later in the year. As the fiscal year’s end approaches, selectmen told lobstermen their $10,000 annual contingency fund would replenish in the new fiscal year. Also, the town could place a warrant article in an upcoming election. “Every year, non-profit groups seek municipal funding. So if we can put it on a warrant then the voters could approve a contribution,” Harmon said. 
    In other action, selectmen began reviewing the Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District Charter with their cross-town counterparts. The two select boards held a workshop in an effort to modernize charter language. The two boards agreed a charter revision would be a long process. So they agreed to attack the project in two stages. Small verbiage changes geared toward “cleaning up” the 66-year-old document would comprise stage one. Later, the two boards would propose more substantial changes such as a referendum vote instead of a public meeting for approving the annual budget and would make small changes, mostly in verbiage, to the  66-year-old document. Stage two would deal with more substantial changes such as voting on the annual budget by referendum instead of a public meeting. 
    The two boards will hold their second workshop at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 18 in the Boothbay Harbor municipal building. 
    This was Boothbay selectmen’s first meeting since the May 2 municipal election. Russell Pinkham was elected as a new selectman. New officers were elected which resulted in Vice-Chairman Chuck Cunningham being elevated to chairman and Mike Tomacelli being appointed vice-chairman. Tomacelli was the only selectman not at the meeting. “I don’t think Tom will be too upset with us unless he’s ever put in a position where he is the chairman,” Selectman Steve Lewis said.
    The board established a new town property rental policy for events lasting three or more consecutive days. In past years, there was no formal policy on town property rentals. The town manager was responsible for scheduling Boothbay Common events and other municipal rentals. The new policy prohibits renters from charging admission for town property rentals. Another change is selectmen will approve rental requests for events lasting three or more consecutive days. 
    The Clifford Park Project passed another hurdle. Bryer reported the project was awarded to Farley and Sons. The Rockport firm was the only firm who submitted a proposal. Bryer told selectmen a low number of bidders isn’t now uncommon for municipal projects. 
    “Doug Beck with the Bureau of Parks and Recreations told me some towns aren’t receiving any bidders,” Bryer said. 
    In February, selectmen placed a moratorium on municipal property rentals which mainly pertain to Boothbay Common. In March, selectmen approved a policy on “legacy groups” such as Boothbay Civic Association and Farmer’s Market which last one or two days. The town manager will determine scheduling for these groups. 
    Bryer also reported Andrea Hodgdon passed her code appointment certification test. Bryer told selectmen she has already been an asset to the code office’s operation. She took the test six weeks ago, but the town only recently received the result. “We’re really really happy with Andrea’s work. She has been fantastic in the office, and this will help us further streamline our service,” he said.  
    Selectmen meet next at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 25 in the conference room.