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Maine GOP lays out plan against groups targeting state's lobster industry

Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, and Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook, announced three pieces of upcoming legislation.

HALLOWELL, Maine — Maine Republican senators and representatives announced their legislative priorities to protect lobstermen on Tuesday, one day before the legislative session begins in Augusta.

Representative Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, is the House minority leader and a lobsterman. The re-elected state representative is politically active in supporting lobstermen, appearing in advertisements for former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine. 

Together with Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook County, the two rolled out three legislative priorities. Stewart is the Senate minority leader. 

The first priority is to ask the Maine attorney general to investigate the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Marine Stewardship Council. Both nonprofit organizations made moves this fall to criticize the Maine lobster industry.

"Some overpriced yuppy grocery store chain sides with people who have never stepped foot on a lobster boat," Stewart said in front of reporters in Hallowell on Tuesday. "An attack on Maine's lobster industry is an attack on all of us."

The second priority is to introduce legislation that would prohibit companies from qualifying for Maine's retail tax credit program if that retail company bans the sale of Maine lobster. The legislation would directly target Whole Foods, which has only one location in Maine but said in November it would suspend the purchase and sale of Maine lobster.

Third, Republicans said they would introduce legislation to prevent the state from having business contracts with retailers that ban the sale of Maine lobster.

"It's going to take all of us standing together to preserve the viability of lobster families to earn a living. Make no mistake. This is war," Faulkingham said. "This is not just a war on lobster fishing. This is a war on environmentalism. This is a war on science, and this is a war on common sense."

All of these actions, Republicans said, are expected to gain bipartisan support. No Democrats have yet to speak out in support of these proposed bills, but Maine Lobster Union member Virginia 'Ginny' Olsen said she is confident lobster legislation will have support.

"The stress level right now is here. If you are a zero or a five or a 10, we're at 11 right now. People don't know what to do," Olsen, who is a fifth-generation lobster fisher, said. "There's just a whole slew of issues the industry is facing now. How do you plan for your business if you don't know where your business is going?"

All three of the legislative proposals Republicans announced have to do with the reactions nonprofits and companies have to the ongoing legal battles between environmental groups, the federal government, and the lobster industry — specifically the ruling of a D.C.-level judge that the federal regulations for the lobster industry are in violation of the Endangered Species Act. 

"The root is the biological opinion," Olsen said. "Where are the right whales? The footprint of the Maine lobstering industry is only a small footprint in the Gulf of Maine."

One of the latest developments in the ongoing legal battles for the lobster industry is that the same D.C. judge ruled in November that industry leaders now have two years to come up with new regulations to get into compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Previously, new regulations were expected this fall.

A proposal Olsen brought up, is to remove the annual seasonal closure of LMA 1, a nearly 1,000-square-mile area of fishing grounds off the coast of Maine, and replace it with a trigger mechanism. She said it would then only close to fishing if a right whale was detected in the area.

"The state of Maine is really stepping up to have dynamic area management," Olsen said.

The judge said in November that both lobster industry leaders and environmental groups will have to report every six months on the progress they make to become in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

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