Gov. Janet Mills has asked the Trump administration to reject a petition from the Pew Charitable Trusts that proposes tight seasonal regulations for some lobster fishing areas to protect endangered right whales.

The proposal “not only fails to provide additional protections for right whales, but contrary to Pew’s assertions, it will cause significant economic impact to Maine’s iconic lobster industry,” Mills wrote in a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Pew, a national civic engagement and public affairs nonprofit, submitted a petition this month to ban traditional lobster fishing in areas where whales feed during their annual migration. The nonprofit wants alternating three-month periods when only ropeless fishing is allowed in areas including waters off Mount Desert Rock, Jordan Basin and Jeffrey’s Ledge, and year-round ropeless fishing off the coast of Nantucket.

The restrictions to protect the remaining 400 right whales would only minimally impact Maine’s $483 million lobster fishery because most fishing takes place closer to shore, Pew said.

But Mills said Pew’s petition and legal challenges by environmental groups only serve to divert time from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff working on new regulations to protect the whales.

The proposal may not actually protect the whales because fishermen might move lines into open water around the restricted areas, increasing their risk of entanglement, Mills added. She accused Pew of using “cherry-picked” data and unclear or inconsistent methodologies to support its case.

“As troubling as I find the potential for further delays, even more infuriating is the notion that this proposal would protect whales,” Mills wrote.

Pew also underestimated the economic impact of proposed closures, Mills said. Two areas off the Maine coast flagged for seasonal restrictions represent 15 percent to 24 percent of the area accessible to Maine fishermen during the months affected by Pew’s proposal, she said.

Lobstermen take in nearly $19 million from those two areas during the closure period, about 4 percent of the state’s lobster fishery in 2019, Mills added.

While the majority of lines are within inshore waters with limited presence of right whales, “it is patently untrue to state that these closures would not cause economic harm to Maine’s fishermen,” she said.


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