Need for Legal Defense Fund Highlights Failures of Federal Lobster Management
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Ailish O’Brien is a student at Bowdoin College, where she double majored in environmental studies and political science.
The recent passage by the Legislature of LD 1916, an act to establish a legal defense fund for the Maine lobster industry, shows a clear state initiative to protect its lobsters from supposed government surveillance. federal. The issue boils down to the need for lobster fishermen to fight the National Atmospheric and Ocean Administration’s increasing regulations that aim to protect right whales, recently closing nearly 1,000 square miles of Maine water to fishing for lobster from October to January.
LD 1916, sponsored by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, is allocating funds from an existing Lobster License Supplement to help fund the legal battle against these tough courtroom regulations. Lobster fishermen have argued that regulations to protect right whales are baseless and not based on science. Some have argued that a right whale has not been found in waters that have been closed by NOAA since 2010. It appears the state is siding with the lobsters here, which is critical if Governor Janet Mills aims to protect the ongoing lobster industry forward.
However, there is a communication failure between lobster industry stakeholders and the federal government, a problem in which the knowledge of those on the water is too often ignored. LD 1916 would not be necessary if NOAA regulations considered lobsters and fishermen first. Now, the burden of protecting right whales falls largely on lobster fishermen who, it seems, rarely, if at all, impact their survival rates.
It’s not that protecting endangered right whales isn’t important. It’s that the method of doing it places a disproportionate burden on the Mainers who could be part of the solution.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be protections for endangered species. In some cases, it is necessary for the federal government to fund research and develop strategies to support the environment when state or municipal governments are unable or unwilling to do so. I see no problem with top-down approaches to solving environmental problems, but when environmental justice is not a key part of the process, it will fail – the case and the point is the mere existence of LD 1916. Local people having local knowledge often knows best and can help the federal government produce lasting results.
On the contrary, LD 1916 should be a lesson for federal regulators to include lobster fishermen when deciding to craft policies that directly affect them. I trust the Lobster Defense Fund can support lobsters in the courtroom and shine a light on the lack of synergy between federal, state and municipal stakeholders. An industry so critical to Maine’s future deserves the support of its legislators, practitioners and Maine residents to find solutions that can both protect animals like the right whale and the livelihood of lobster fishermen.