Maine's top elected officials urge feds to throw out new lobstering rules

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Oct. 22—Maine's top elected officials are urging the federal government to throw out and rewrite a set of controversial new rules regulating Maine's lobster fishery, calling the process "flawed and unfair."

In a letter sent Thursday to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, and Gov. Janet Mills lauded a federal judge's decision last week to block the enforcement of a seasonal closure of a large section of the Gulf of Maine that was slated to go into effect Monday.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has said the closure area is necessary to protect the critically endangered right whale, but many in the lobster industry, and now U.S. District Judge Lance Walker, argue that the science used to support the closure is questionable.

They urged Raimondo to immediately resolve what they called the rule's many shortcomings.

"Throughout the rulemaking process, we have raised concerns expressed by Maine's lobstermen and other industry stakeholders about the flawed and incomplete data upon which the final rule ultimately relied," they wrote. "(The Fisheries Service's) decision to impose a sudden fisheries closure will cause irreparable harm to the industry, while doing little to achieve meaningful protections for the right whale population."

The Maine Lobster Union, Fox Island Lobster Co. of Vinalhaven and Damon Family Lobster Co. of Stonington filed a joint lawsuit against the Fisheries Service last month in an effort to block the roughly 967-square-mile, October-through-January seasonal closure, which would make the area off-limits to traditional lobster fishing.

The closure is part of a larger set of regulations issued in September by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aimed at reducing the right whales' risk of dying from being entangled in fishing gear by at least 60 percent.

Mills and the state's congressional delegation said Walker's decision to grant a temporary restraining area on the closure area underscores the many issues with the agency's final rule.

"We urge you to withdraw this rule and to use whatever authorities you have to immediately resolve the ... restricted area component, which does not reflect the reality of the conditions in the Gulf of Maine," they wrote.

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