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Senator Collins Secures More Than $15 million to Support Maine’s Lobster Industry in Funding Bills

Also included are congressional directives for NOAA to assess the economic impact of the right whale rule, engage Canada on its outsized role in right whale decline, and monitor movement of the species’ primary food source


Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, announced today that she secured $15,065,000 in the draft Fiscal Year 2022 Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations bill to support Maine’s lobster industry.  The bill, which was officially released by the full Appropriations Committee yesterday afternoon, must still be voted upon by the full Senate and House.


“The seafood industry is a vital part of Maine’s economy and heritage, sustaining jobs and strengthening our coastal communities,” said Senator Collins. “The livelihoods of the Mainers who work in this industry were recently jeopardized by a rule from the National Marine Fisheries Service.  This rule, which is intended to protect the fragile right whale population, unfairly targets Maine’s lobstermen and women and does not reflect reality in the Gulf of Maine.  Notably, there are no known cases of Maine’s lobster industry being responsible for killing or seriously injuring a right whale, and there has not been a single right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster fisheries in nearly two decades. The recent ruling by the U.S. District Court of Maine halting the planned closure in Lobster Management Area 1 is a sound and welcome development, and underscores the many shortcomings with the agency’s final rule.”


“This funding would support our state’s iconic lobster industry by engaging stakeholders in the local and regional seafood systems, helping to cover the costs incurred by lobstermen as a result of the misguided rule, and improving the incomplete and imprecise science upon which the federal government relies,” Senator Collins continued. “I will continue to champion this investment as the appropriations process moves forward.”


The funding Senator Collins secured includes:


·         $765,000 to help the lobster industry plan for the future.  This process would engage with and prepare stakeholders on ways to preserve the industry in the face of burdensome right whale-related regulations, which are having far-reaching impacts across Maine’s coastal communities and economy.  Planning for the future is critical to the economic survival and resilience of Maine’s coastal economy as well as the future of the right whale species. This initiative, to be led by the Maine Department of Marine Resources, is supported by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association, the Southern Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.


·         $10 million to help the lobster industry comply with new regulations.  This funding was included in the CJS Appropriations bill and will cover costs paid for by the lobster industry to comply with the final rule to modify the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, including gear modification, configuration, and marking requirements, which are currently set to take effect in May 2022.


·         $300,000 to improve scientific understanding of right whale migration patterns. This funding would support a continuous plankton recorder survey to better track the movement of right whales’ primary food source, which is a strong indicator of the whales’ migration patterns.  The National Marine Fisheries Service’s own data support the conclusion that right whales are traversing offshore waters of the Gulf of Maine less and less frequently as waters warm and the species’ primary food source moves further offshore and northward into colder Canadian waters.


·         $4 million in vital right whale-related research, monitoring, and conservation efforts. This funding will spur partnerships among lobster fishermen, state agencies, and research institutions toward developing operational technologies that will help the lobster industry in the Gulf of Maine.


Furthermore, Senator Collins secured instructions to NOAA to complete an assessment and cumulative estimate of any economic losses incurred by the lobster industry that are directly related to the final rule and to work with Canada to develop risk reduction measures that are comparable in effectiveness for both fisheries and vessels.


Senator Collins joined the Maine Delegation and Governor Mills in opposing the new rule that threatens the lobster industry but does not meaningfully protect whales.