The Maine Lobstermen’s Association announced a three-year, $10 million fundraising campaign Tuesday to raise money for the fishery’s fight against impending regulations that industry members say could “eliminate the fishery and end Maine’s lobstering tradition.” 

It named the fundraising campaign “Save Maine Lobstermen” and created a website at savemainelobstermen.org.

Earlier this year, the National Marine Fisheries Service released a 10-year plan, known as a biological opinion, to help protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale from deadly entanglements in fishing gear. 

The first phase of the plan, released in August, adds requirements that include state-specific gear marking, weak points in rope to allow entangled whales to break free, and a 967-square-mile seasonal closure off the coast of Maine to reduce risks to whales by 60 percent this year and 98 percent over 10 years. 

Patrice McCarron, director of the Lobstermen’s Association, called the federal plan “draconian” and said it’s a lose-lose for all. 

“It will not protect right whales, but it will eliminate the Maine lobster fishery,” McCarron said in announcing the fundraising campaign. “If we don’t meet this mandate, it will be illegal for the federal government to continue to permit the lobster fishery.”

The $10 million that lobstermen are trying to raise would support continued legal challenges to the federal regulations, regulatory processes and political channels; and investments in scientific research, development of innovative gear solutions and education, she said.

To reach the federal plan’s 98 percent risk reduction target, Maine’s lobster fleet would have to either convert to ropeless fishing, a technology that sends buoy lines to the surface using acoustic signals, or institute broad closures that would effectively eliminate lobster fishing in Maine, McCarron said.

Ropeless fishing is still in the development stage and has not been tested on a commercial scale. With a handful of boats in a small area, ropeless fishing is conceivable, she said, but not for a fishery with thousands of boats and thousands of miles of coastline.

The lobstermen’s group also opposes the October-January seasonal closure, a hotly contested inclusion in the whale-protection plan that has spurred litigation. In general, the group doesn’t believe the new rules will save the whales, or that the state’s iconic fishery should take the blame for their dwindling numbers. 

The association is suing the federal government to stop the 10-year plan and has asked the court for a more industry-friendly version “so that we can save right whales without sacrificing the lobster fishery.”

It isn’t the only group going after the new rules. While the majority of them won’t go into effect until May, the seasonal closure was slated to go into effect almost immediately, with fishermen required to remove their gear from the area by Oct. 18. 

But last month, after a lawsuit was filed by the Maine Lobstering Union, a federal judge prevented the closure until the details and science behind it could be further scrutinized.

A group of conservationists swiftly filed an appeal, citing new information that the right whale population declined another 10 percent last year, from 366 in 2019 to 336 in 2020. 

A ruling on the appeal is expected any day.

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