AUGUSTA – Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, testified in favor of legislation to support lobster harvesters and Maine’s lobster industry at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee on Tuesday. The bill – LD 1916, “An Act To Create the Legal Defense Fund for the Maine Lobster Industry” – would establish the Lobster Legal Defense Commission and the Lobster Legal Defense Fund to help the lobstering community navigate or in some cases, challenge new rules and regulations.
“Many Mainers have been helping their families haul traps since they were able to walk and hold a rope. But the economic impact of Maine’s $1.4 billion lobster industry extends beyond those who earn a living hauling traps. The hard work of our lobstering community has created a demand that brings business to restaurants, grocers, truckers, storage facilities, and more,” said President Jackson. “This won’t solve all the issues facing the lobstering community, but it will help ensure that lobster harvesters have a voice in future discussions, and make sure that their voice cannot be ignored.”
The Lobster Legal Defense Commission outlined in the proposed legislation would review current and proposed laws, rules and regulations at the state and federal level that impact the lobster industry. After participating in this review process, the commission would then determine how to best use funds in the Lobster Legal Defense Fund to support the industry. The funds could be used to mount legal challenges or support independent research.
LD 1916 responds to new federal regulations put forward by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in August in an effort to protect right whales, despite there being no evidence linking Maine lobstering practices to the deaths of the endangered species. According to NOAA, an estimated 34 whales have died since 2017, with only 12 deaths occurring in U.S. waters. A majority of these deaths can be attributed to vessel strikes; none of these deaths have been linked to the Maine lobstermen.
In September, the Maine Lobstering Union filed a civil lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA, and the National Marine Fisheries Service following new federal regulations that include closing “one of the most productive and important lobster grounds.” In October, Maine’s Legislative Council unanimously voted to sign on to this lawsuit seeking emergency relief related to the impending closure of Lobster Management Area 1.
According to preliminary data from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the value of landings from Maine’s lobster industry in 2020 was more than $400 million. A 2018 report from Colby College found that Maine’s Lobster Industry contributed roughly $1 billion to the state’s overall economy and an estimated 4,000 jobs.
LD 1916 faces additional work sessions in committee.