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ME - Fishermen and politicians pledge to battle for Maine’s lobster industry in Stonington

STONINGTON, Maine — More than 200 lobstermen and supporters amassed in the state’s most valuable fishing port Sunday to say they will continue to fight any attempts to put new regulations on the industry.

Fishermen, politicians from both sides of the aisle and members of the Deer Isle-Stonington community rallied at the fish pier to back the embattled fishery and raise money to fund its ongoing lawsuits.

Federal fishing regulators are currently under a court mandate to cut the risk to the endangered North Atlantic right whale by 90 percent after existing plans were found to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act. There are only about 340 right whales left and scientists say that entanglement in fishing gear is a major threat.

But the lobstermen who had assembled in Stonington maintained their innocence in the specie’s demise and said that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which regulates the lobster fishery, is using flawed science as it crafts new protections for the whales.

Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher, one of more than 20 speakers at the rally, said regulators need to get better data on whale migration patterns in the Gulf of Maine. He believed that a 90 percent risk reduction would cripple the industry but more recent research would show that Maine’s fleet is not at fault.

“They need to use the most up to date, available science,” he told the crowd. “That up-to-date science does not put you out of business.”

Julie Eaton of Deer Isle, who fishes out of Stonington, said fishermen have repeatedly sacrificed for years, changing their gear to accommodate new regulations. But some of the scenarios that have been laid out, including large and lengthy closures, are untenable. She suggested that NOAA start building prisons because “we are not going to comply.”

“How much are we willing to sacrifice?” she said.

Candidates for both state and federal offices made pitches on how to protect the industry with the election just days away. Former U.S. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican running against Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District, called for NOAA to be defunded in an attempt to bring the rulemaking process to a halt.

On the state level, Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, said there needs to be better research on right whale migration and more needs to be done about ship strikes.

Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, who is also a lobsterman, said he planned to resubmit a bill that would prohibit the state from giving any approvals to offshore wind energy projects, as well as try to extend the newly created legal defense fund for the industry.

Even local officials said they were working on ways to bolster the fishery. Kathleen Billings, Stonington’s town manager, said the town was pondering a special town meeting this winter to donate $10,000 to ongoing legal challenges.

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