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Annual fisheries meeting tackles lobster lawsuits, whale protections

The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission hosted the event, which brings fishery stakeholders to discuss pressing issues facing Maine's largest fishery.

PORTLAND, Maine — On Tuesday in Washington D.C., key players from Maine's lobster fishery tackled what it considers its most pressing issues.

Lawsuits, protections for Atlantic right whales, and new sizing limits for lobsters were some of the issues discussed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and lobster fishers.

The first issue was an update regarding Judge James Boasberg's July ruling in the U.S. District Court case involving the Center for Biological Diversity versus Secretary Raimondo and the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

This case made the news in early July after Boasberg ruled regulators aren't doing enough to protect the right whale.

Just days after, he sided with environmental groups in another lawsuit to allow Area 1 to close again to fishermen this coming fall and winter.

NOAA attorney Chip Lynch said his agency was given six months to come up with a remedy to reduce the death rate of whales.

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said the industry is in trouble.

"The judge, utilizing the Endangered Species Act, could actually close the entire fishery down, including other fisheries that have the potential to impact north Atlantic right whales," Keliher said.

Another issue was a proposal to shrink the size limit for lobsters over the course of five years in order to replenish the declining population of young lobsters.

There were two issues outlined in the plans provided by the board. The first was to address measures to improve populations and the second issue was to apply a management trigger that would implement a certain size limit once a population reached a lower level.

Among concerns brought up by board members was that it would have impacts on the market, seeing that Canada would not have to change their size limit and then wouldn't be able to send smaller live lobsters back to the states.

Board members voted unanimously to postpone further comment until its fall meeting.

Lobsterman Steve Train said it would be an easy fix and is confident it will be brought back up for public comment in October.

"Usually, we end up on the same page as Canada anyway. So I suspect that if we go up, Canadians may very well go up a few years behind us," Train said.

The final two issues discussed included NOAA's announcement of reduced boat speeds and the future of ropeless lobster traps,

An NOAA official made public a proposal that would set the speed limits to boats 35 feet and longer. The current proposal previously only impacted boats 65 feet and longer.

There was a discussion on ropeless and on-demand gear, but board members said the current technology is too expensive.

Train suggested the innovations need to account for 20-trap lines or longer, and the technology would have to be detected far enough offshore that there wouldn't be any gear entanglements.

Andrea Tomlinson with the New England Young Fishermen's Alliance said ropeless gear is impractical until it becomes cheaper and adds to the industry's uncertainty.

"It was once a vibrant fishery here in northern New England. What we have left is our lobster industry, and it's in great peril. It's alarmingly concerning," Tomlinson said.

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