Credit: George Danby / BDN

ME - Lobster rules pause is an opportunity for Maine's coastal communities

Just before the holidays, Maine’s congressional delegation took bold legislative action that has the potential to save Maine’s lobster industry and the island and coastal communities that depend on it.

While this news provides hope for fishermen, it is also an urgent call to action. We all need to work together to take advantage of this moment.

New legislation approved through the federal budget process extended a deadline to the end of 2028 for implementing contentious changes proposed to protect North Atlantic right whales. In addition, the new legislation invests more than $55 million in science, monitoring and technology aimed at improving how we understand and manage these ocean resources.

One major problem with the proposed protections was that they didn’t adequately account for climate change. A December 2022 report from the National Marine Fisheries Service shows right whales have new migration patterns, venturing far past their traditional territories and journeying to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Whales are going there because changes in ocean circulation and warming waters off Maine force them to look elsewhere for their food. That’s why the new investments in science and data collection are so important. We need a more accurate picture of where the whales are to properly plan for their protection and the co-existence of the lobster fishery.

The new legislation also funds testing and deployment of innovative gear technologies — including ropeless traps — that can reduce the risk to whales. Accelerating our understanding of ropeless gear, including the technical, operational, enforcement, regulatory and other challenges helps us better evaluate this technology’s ability to meet the needs of lobstermen.

Even with better data, it is likely the lobster industry and coastal communities will still face significant changes over the next six years. As Maine Department of Marine Resources, Commissioner Patrick Keliher recently told the lobster industry, “This win doesn’t mean we can sit back and wait for things to change – we must actively work on gathering data, challenging the science, improving the models and developing gear that works … we must all work together and determine the path forward.”

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