STONINGTON, Maine — Mainers who haul lobsters for a living do not kill right whales.
That was the message from a rally at Stonington’s commercial fishing pier on Sunday attended by more than 500 people, including Gov. Janet Mills, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, and U.S. Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree.
At issue are pending federal regulations aimed at protecting the endangered right whale, which can be killed by getting tangled in lobster trap-lines, but would force state lobstermen to cut the number of lines they can put into the water by 60 percent.
Rally speakers said that the rule would devastate the state’s lobster industry, which contributes an estimated $1 billion to Maine’s economy, while doing nothing to protect the whales, which, as a recent scientific study shows, seldom stray into the lobstering waters of the Gulf of Maine.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, no right whales have died from entanglement in Maine fishing lines in many years, as increasingly rising ocean temperatures have driven the whales and the food they eat into Canadian territory.
Mills and the congressional delegation, plus speakers representing former Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Sen. Angus King, told rally attendees that they would support the state’s approximately 4,500 lobstermen and continue to press President Donald Trump to oppose the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s proposed new regulation.
“We all want to protect the right whale,” Mills said Sunday. “We want to save the right whale, but we want to do it the right way, protecting the safety of Maine’s fishermen and the fishermen community, protecting the economy of coastal Maine and all of Maine.”
The number of right whales has dwindled to fewer than 420 during the past decade, but the proposal is “disproportionately and absurdly burdensome” to the state’s lobster industry, which has helped follow and craft NOAA regulations protecting fisheries for more than 20 years, Collins said.
“They will do nothing to help the right whale,” Collins said Sunday, adding, “there are no better conservationists than the lobstermen and women in Maine. It is now time for NOAA to listen to you.”
Maine’s congressional delegation wrote a letter to Trump on July 10 to list arguments against the NOAA’s proposed actions and suggest that Trump’s intervention would be in line with his regulatory philosophy, but it does not propose a specific remedy. LePage’s letter argued that the proposed rules unfairly burden Maine’s lobster industry.