An amendment filed by Maine Rep. Jared Golden to prohibit federal regulators from spending money on right whale protections that would impact lobstermen was voted down Thursday.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 345-84 to kill the amendment to the U.S. Department of Commerce spending bill. The proposed budget rider was also supported by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

In defense of his amendment, Golden, D-2nd District, told a largely empty House chamber that it was needed to protect Maine’s $485-million- a-year lobster industry from being unfairly blamed for a problem that it didn’t cause. Good science would prove that, Golden said.

“(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), facing the threat of lawsuits, has rushed ahead using a tool that was developed for the purpose of reducing ship strikes by the Navy,” Golden said. Then NOAA “fed that tool with old data and hasty assumptions.”

“For years now, Maine lobstermen have made sacrifices with almost no measurable effect on right whales,” Golden said later Thursday in an emailed statement. “My amendment simply required the government to ensure the use of sound science and reliable data before they take even more from our lobstermen. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.”

Golden and the head of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Pat Keliher, believe the tool is based on outdated habitat information from the mid-Atlantic region, not the Gulf of Maine, and doesn’t even consider the risk posed by Canada, which is a new and deadly hotspot for right whales.


California Rep. Jared Huffman, a fellow Democrat who is the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources’s wildlife committee, spoke against the amendment, arguing the tool used to build the right whale protection plan was built on the best available scientific information.

“Defunding it undermines consensus-based, conservation decision-making process,” Huffman testified. “It would set a dangerous precedent … and have impacts on other industries, fisheries and the North Atlantic right whale.”

The Golden amendment would have effectively blocked the controversial right whale regulations that force the state lobster industry to cut the number of buoy lines in the Gulf of Maine by 50 percent to prevent fatal fishing gear entanglements.

Maine fishermen and fishery managers agreed to these end line reductions during whale protection talks in April, glad that more draconian measures such as ropeless fishing and fishing area closures were taken off the table, but withheld the right to reverse course.

The industry has pushed back hard against the end line reduction proposal in meetings over the last month.

In April, Northeast Fisheries Science Center Director Jon Hare said decision-making in the face of scientific uncertainty is a common challenge, and that uncertainty does not exempt a federal agency from action under the law. The tool is undergoing a peer review while his office uses it to shape its whale plan, he said.


Hare called the model the best science available for the federal government’s right whale protection efforts.

Environmental groups dedicated to protecting the right whale echo Hare’s conclusion, saying the federal laws that protect marine mammals and endangered species require scientists to rely on the best available science when forming policy, not perfect and complete science, if such a thing even exists.

Golden’s office estimated it would take NOAA about a year to subject the risk model to a peer review. But environmental groups claim the struggling right whale is just 20 years from becoming “functionally extinct” and regulators can’t afford to wait before taking action.

Golden issued a statement Thursday night saying, “Today’s vote showed just how dysfunctional Washington — and our politics — have become. … Environmental groups sent out emails presenting a binary choice: save the whales or support the lobstermen. But most of us know it’s not that simple. It should be possible to take steps to protect right whales and to work to limit the damage to lobstermen’s livelihoods.”

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