The ongoing legal battle has resulted in a ruling against the Maine Lobstering Union.
PORTLAND, Maine – Virginia Olsen called the situation “beyond frustrating”.
Olsen is a lobster fisherman from Stonington and the political director of the Maine Lobstering Union.
Earlier this week, union members and all other Maine lobster boats lost a big fight in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston when judges restored the federal government’s closure of a 967 ocean area. square miles off the coast of Maine.
The shutdown, which was originally scheduled to take effect from Oct. 18 to Jan. 31, is part of a NOAA Fisheries and National Marine Fisheries Service plan to protect endangered right whales from entangling in lobster fishing gear. .
A federal judge in Bangor last month sided with the union’s arguments against the shutdown and imposed an injunction to arrest it. The appeals court overturned that decision and the shutdown is now effective, according to NOAA Fisheries.
The Maine Lobstering Union and other players in the fishing industry said there was no hard evidence that right whales were in this closed area. But federal regulators have said there is evidence, including data obtained this year from underwater hearing devices.
Olsen said the approximately 150 lobster boats fishing in this closed area have two weeks to remove their traps, lines and buoys.
It occurs at the time of year when lobster boats typically see their biggest catches, and prices are normally high, although this year prices have remained higher than usual for most of the year.
The area targeted by the closure is part of what’s called Lobster Management Zone 1, and Olsen said that’s where a number of the larger boats go for the fall and winter fishing.
“It’s their season. They’re our biggest boats, and they go into this area primarily as their wintering grounds… and our winter fishing grounds are vitally important to Maine, ”Olsen said.
The estimated number of boats translates into hundreds of captains and crew, and several thousand traps, according to Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher.
“We estimated that the closure would have an economic impact of $ 2 million to $ 4 million just on fishermen. We don’t know what the impact on the shore side will be, ”said Keliher.
Both Keliher and Olsen said there would definitely be an impact on businesses ashore not to have these offshore lobster landings. However, it is expected that fishermen who must withdraw from the closed area will move many of their traps to other waters, thus increasing competition with fishermen already present.
And while Olsen said the union is exploring options for a new appeal, Keliher said there is longer-term concern over a different court case, which has just started in court in Washington, DC.
There, the Center for Biological Diversity took legal action against federal agencies, arguing that these agencies failed to adequately protect right whales from entanglements in fishing gear.
There are fewer than 400 living right whales, according to researchers and advocates who said it was even more urgent to take strong action to protect them.
Keliher said the case could result in stricter restrictions on lobster than those currently in place. Maine has filed a case as an intervener in the case, and Keliher said that’s where the state is putting most of its legal goals at the moment.