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Lobstermen may get temporary delay on new right whale restrictions

If the judge allows it, lobstermen would presumably get to continue to operate under current rules for two years while they wait to see how things will change.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine lobstermen may get a temporary break on new rules aimed to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. But it will be up to a federal judge in Washington, D.C. to decide.

The lobster industry, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) are involved in federal court negotiations over imposing new and tougher restrictions on fishing.  

The CBD brought a suit against the federal agency, arguing the rules imposed earlier this year don’t do enough to protect the endangered whales, as required by federal law. 

In August, the federal judge in Washington, D.C. agreed with the environmental group and told all sides to recommend how quickly new rules could be prepared.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is part of NOAA, said it needed two years, while the CBD suggested just six months—a prospect that has had lobstermen extremely worried about sudden, dramatic cutbacks in how they can fish.

But on Monday, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) said the environmental group has changed its position and has indicated to the court it will accept the two-year time frame requested by NMFS.

The federal judge still hasn’t decided if he will allow that, but if it happens, fishermen would presumably continue to operate under current rules for those two years.

A spokesman for the MLA said if the judge agrees, it will give fishermen some much-needed breathing room while they wait to see how things will change.

The state of Maine is also a party to the court case, and Pat Keliher, Maine’s commissioner of marine resources, sent a statement this evening: 

“[The Center for Biological Diversity] has done an about-face from their original request for the judge to force NMFS to develop new rules that would achieve a 90 percent risk reduction in six months,” Keliher said. “While this is seemingly good news, they still are pushing devastating changes on the Maine lobster industry in a short timeframe. It’s difficult to speculate how Judge Boasberg may rule in this case, but clearly time is needed to find a path forward that won’t cripple Maine’s lobster industry and our coastal economy.”

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