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Maine Delegation Calls on Feds to Answer for Shortcomings in Data, Correct Inaccuracies before Releasing New Rules on Lobstermen

Delegation also calls on NOAA to remove inaccurate information that maligns Maine lobster fishery on official website


WASHINGTON — Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME), Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01), and Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) pressed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over the accuracy of the data and assumptions the agency is using to craft new regulations on Maine’s lobstermen. 


The delegation is requesting additional information from NOAA about how the findings of a recently completed peer-review process will be incorporated into its draft rules on the lobster fishery. Additionally, the Members of Congress are calling on the agency to better account for the role of Canadian fisheries and ship strikes, as well as other U.S. fisheries, in the agency’s estimates of risk to the North Atlantic right whale. 


“Given the significant and potentially life-threatening modifications that Maine lobstermen are being pressed to implement in order to meet a risk reduction target set by the [Take Reduction Team], NOAA Fisheries must ensure that accurate data and the best available scientific evidence alone serve as the basis for determining the level of risk posed by Maine’s lobster fishery and all other fisheries interacting with the species,” wrote the Maine delegation. “It is our hope that the agency will continue its work to improve the quality of the information as well as the manner in which it is interpreted… and not proceed with regulations that are based on uncertain estimations, particularly given the number of lives and livelihoods that are at stake.”


Following pressure from the delegation, NOAA completed a peer-review process for the data tool it uses to create the regulations, which are intended to protect the North Atlantic Right Whale. The Members of Congress are asking NOAA how it plans to incorporate the results of the peer review into the draft regulations ahead of their expected release in early 2020, noting that the agency is on a tight timeline. 


Collins, King, Pingree, and Golden also expressed concern and frustration over NOAA’s repeated failure to acknowledge the outsized risk Canadian fisheries pose to right whales. While Maine’s lobster fishery has made modifications that have reduced documented whale entanglements by 90 percent in the last decade, Canada has not taken comparable steps. In fact, Canada has rolled back several of its whale protection efforts in 2019. 


“Continuing to downplay the role of Canadian fisheries in future right whale management plans ignores the reality that the species is not bound by national borders,” continued the Members of Congress. “Lobster fishery management efforts cannot be successful unless the impacts from Canadian fisheries and shipping on right whale injury and mortality are adequately accounted for. We continue to be dismayed by NOAA Fisheries’ assumption that the United States and Canada pose equal risk to the North Atlantic right whale, despite the clear outsized role of Canada in right whale deaths in recent years.”


The Maine delegation also took issue with inaccurate information recently published by NOAA on its website. The delegation argued that the agency’s “Right Whales and the Lobster Fishery” webpage perpetuates the false narrative that the Maine lobster fishery is the primary cause of right whale serious injury and mortality, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Maine’s Department of Marine Resources and Maine lobster fishery stakeholders have previously pointed out factual inaccuracies with much of the webpage’s source material, but NOAA has yet to remove or correct the misleading information. 


“The regulations being developed by NOAA will have a profound effect on Maine’s lobster industry. As such, the federal government owes it to Maine lobstermen and their communities to — at the very least — use the best available evidence and accurate data to create these regulations. The MLA strongly agrees with our delegation: NOAA should quickly incorporate the findings of its peer-review into its data tool, account for the risk from Canadian fisheries, and they should remove misleading and inaccurate information from their website. We thank Senators Collins and King and Representatives Pingree and Golden for their work on behalf of Maine lobstering communities.” - Patrice McCarron, Executive Director, Maine Lobstermen’s Association.


Collins, King, Pingree, and Golden have consistently stood up for Maine lobstermen, demanding that government agencies ground their regulations in sound science and data. In July, the group wrote to the president to urge him to intervene in NOAA’s rulemaking. Golden and Pingree introduced an amendment in June that would have temporarily blocked NOAA’s efforts pending a peer-review. The delegation also raised concerns over the process and data NOAA has used to develop its proposed rules in a May letter to NOAA officials. 


Read a copy of the letter here.