A legislative committee reversed course Tuesday and voted unanimously to endorse a bill that will provide financial support to Maine’s lobster industry as it fights in court against federal rules designed to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Members of the Committee on Marine Resources met virtually and voted 12-0 to recommend passage of L.D. 1916, an act to create a Legal Defense Fund for the Maine Lobster Industry.

If the legislation is adopted by the full Legislature and signed by the governor, the Legal Defense Fund would provide about $900,000 annually to help lobster fishermen fight new federal rules designed reduce mortality risk to the endangered right whale. The bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2023, according to its sponsor, Rep. William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor. Faulkingham is a lobsterman.

The Committee on Marine Resources voted 9-4 last month to reject a bill that would have created the legal defense fund after regulators, industry members and the state Attorney General’s Office said the bill could have unintended consequences and might be unconstitutional.

Faulkingham recognized those concerns and proposed several amendments that were accepted and incorporated into the legislation by members of the Committee on Marine Resources.

“I decided to make some changes,” Faulkingham said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “It didn’t go so well the last time.”


Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, a member of the Marine Resource Committee, called the amendments “significant,” and necessary for the legislation to move forward.

Under the original bill, the lobster industry would have paid for the legal defense fund through surcharges on lobster trap tags and licenses. Faulkingham said he removed that section. The revised bill calls for $500,000 to be allocated into the Legal Defense Fund from the state’s General Fund. The remaining $400,000 would be generated from surcharges paid by lobster fishermen to the Lobster Marketing Collaborative.

Hepler and Faulkingham said the bill would remain in effect for two years instead of 10 years, but could be renewed by the Legislature. The bill’s language also was tightened, meaning the Legal Defense Fund may only be tapped when court litigation involves rules governing North Atlantic right whales.

The push for legal assistance comes in advance of new federal rules that will require lobstermen in the Gulf of Maine to adopt special equipment and techniques designed to reduce mortality risk to the critically endangered right whale. Those rules are set to take effect May 1.

“I’m extremely happy. It’s a big compromise, but that is what legislation is all about,” Faulkingham said. “The lobster industry needs a reliable source of funding.”

Maine lobstermen hauled in a record $725 million worth of lobster in 2021, shattering the previous record of $541 million set in 2016. Despite the record-breaking value, the pounds of lobster landed represented the third-lowest annual haul in the past decade.

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