MAINE, USA — The Maine Lobstering Union is agreeing to drop part of its lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Services, where the federal agency is closing a 960-square-mile section of the Gulf of Maine to lobster fishers.
Federal regulators said this section of ocean is prime habitat for North Atlantic right whales and argued blocking that part of the ocean off from buoy lines from Oct. 18 to Jan. 31, 2023, would help reduce the risk posed to entanglements between lobster gear and whales.
Alfred C Frawley with McCloskey, Mina, Cunniff, and Frawley, LLC, said in an email the move was made as federal agencies add more regulations against the lobster industry.
"The MLU has taken the procedural step of agreeing to dismiss its case in Maine, which was largely mooted by the DC Court’s recent decision, in order to focus its resources on the ongoing litigation in DC and on ensuring that NMFS issues a new rule that both protects the North Atlantic right whale and ensures the sustainability of Maine’s lobster fishery," Frawley said in an email to NEWS CENTER Maine.
The area, known as LMA 1, is home to hundreds of fishermen like Tyler Turner of Portland.
If the closure stands without a state-level court injunction, then Turner said he would lose out on at least half his income.
“It’s going to be catastrophic. It’s going to be crippling. I just want to be able to work. I can relieve myself. I don’t need someone telling me where I can’t go,” Turner said.
Turner is 36 and said he’s fished since he was 10 years old without seeing a single North Atlantic right whale, which is at the center of debate between lobstermen and environmental groups.
NOAA officials maintain that while no right whale deaths have been linked to Maine lobster gear, it’s possible it could have contributed to injury and death, as Maine didn’t require its lobstermen to mark their gear until 2020.
Frawley said that while NOAA creates new laws for the lobster industry after a DC judge ruled its approach was not doing enough to protect whales, it's a better financial decision to divert resources to the other legal matters involving Maine lobstermen.
"The MLU continues to believe that any closure of lobster fishing in the Northern Gulf of Maine is unjustified based on the best science available and will continue to challenge the LMA 1 closure area in connection with the pending DC litigation and the ongoing NMFS rulemaking process," Frawley wrote in an email.
NOAA officials are expected to present new guidelines, including the closure of LMA 1, sometime in the fall.