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Judge rules two-year extension before lobster industry regulation changes

The original plan was to have new regulations on lobster trap lines and protections for right whales this fall, but a judge agreed the technology isn't there yet.

PORTLAND, Maine — A Thursday afternoon opinion was confirmed with bipartisan agreement between environmental groups and Maine lobstermen intervenors to allow the federal government to come up with new regulations to reduce right whale entanglements. 

Judge James Boasberg of D.C. ruled in favor of the two-year extension as new rules from National Marine Fisheries Service were set to be released this fall. 

The extension was granted as the judge ruled more evidence was needed to prove lobster trap lines were harming whales and that new ropeless lobster gear is not available for mass production yet.

This all comes as ongoing legal battles continue to throw the lobster industry in limbo. 

Changes have included a reinstating of a federal fishing area being closed from October to January, and new weak links in rope that fishermen complain could snap even under heavy storm swells — let alone a right whale.

"It's huge, it's going to push a lot of offshore guys inshore — it's going to push a lot of gear," Matt Donnell, a lobsterman from York, told NEWS CENTER Maine in July. "The lobster industry is self regulated when it comes to trap congestion, and when you push everyone into one pot, it's going to cut the pie down that much smaller."


After the reinstatement of the closure, lobstermen took the federal government to court to try and block the new rules, saying there was no evidence that Maine lobster boats or traps harmed the endangered whale.

Governor Janet Mills and several lawmakers agreed with the industry.

Then there was a big break, an agreement between the environmental groups and the lobster industry to extend the time for the federal government to come up with new regulations.

In his opinion, Judge Boasberg added that the defendants and plaintiffs would have to come together every six months starting July 2023 and offer updates to those new regulations, which are set to be implemented December 2024.

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