WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st Dist., and Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd Dist., announced $17,065,000 to support Maine’s lobster industry was included in the fiscal year 2022 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill, according to a March 11 news release.

Collins is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee. Pingree is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and Chairs the Interior and Environment Subcommittee.

The omnibus funding package passed the House and Senate and now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“NOAA’s own data show that the Maine fishery has never been linked to a right whale death, and the record clearly demonstrates that ship strikes and Canadian fishing activities are major contributors to right whale mortalities,” Collins, King, Pingree and Golden said. “Maine lobstermen and women have always been good stewards of the environment and have taken numerous actions to protect right whales when the science has warranted it. That’s why it is extremely frustrating that they have been targeted by the deeply flawed and unfair Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Rule. We strongly advocated for this funding, which will support our state’s iconic lobster industry by helping to cover the costs incurred by lobstermen as a result of the misguided rule, engaging stakeholders in the local and regional seafood systems, and improving the incomplete and imprecise science upon which the federal government relies.”

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said, “The Maine lobster industry faces an uncertain future as a result of onerous federal regulations that are not based on sound science. MLA is grateful for the delegation’s efforts to secure this important funding and for their recognition that the government’s flawed plan should be revised so that it protects whales without eliminating the lobster fishery.”

Pat Keliher, Maine DMR commissioner, said, “This funding comes at a critical time, as Maine’s lobster industry faces challenges from both an uncertain future and the looming May 1 implementation date. Support for improved science will also ensure more targeted regulations in the future which will have better conservation benefits for whales, and less unintended consequences for Maine fishermen.”

The funding championed by the Maine delegation includes:

  • $14 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. Collins and Golden recently introduced the SAFE SEAS Act, co-sponsored by King and Pingree, which would authorize such assistance for the next two fiscal years.
  • $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. 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. Collins, King and Pingree secured this funding as part of Congress’ return to congressionally directed spending in fiscal year 2022.
  • $2 million in vital sea grant lobster and right whale-related research, monitoring, and conservation efforts. This funding will spur partnerships among industry, state agencies, and research institutions toward developing operational technologies that will help the lobster industry in the Gulf of Maine.
  • $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 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.

Collins also 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, to work with Canada to develop risk reduction measures that are comparable in effectiveness for both fisheries and vessels, to conduct a continuous plankton recorder survey to better track the movement of right whales’ primary food source, and to work with Canada on a cooperative management plan for the Gray Zone.