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Governor Mills Directs DMR to Push for Expedited Appeal of Court Decision Hurting Maine’s Vital Lobster Industry

Governor also donates $100,000 from Contingent Account to Lobstermen’s Association to support ongoing legal battles

Today Governor Janet Mills directed the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to file a motion to expedite the appeal of a recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Maine Lobstermen’s Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service.  

The Mills Administration has partnered with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association in Maine Lobstermen’s Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service to assert that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Biological Opinion, released in May 2021, is unlawful. The State and MLA argue that NMFS acted arbitrarily by failing to rely on the best available scientific information and by failing to account for the positive impact of costly conservation measures already adopted by the Maine lobster fishery. In its September 8, 2022 opinion, the U.S. District Court sided with NMFS against Maine lobstermen.

“As the National Marine Fisheries Services pushes heedlessly ahead to implement new rules that would devastate Maine lobstermen, the Appeals Court must move just as fast to consider the available science and reverse the lower court’s opinion to prevent further damage to this critical industry,” said Governor Mills. “My Administration will continue to fight to see that the courts use sound science and proven facts –  most notably that a known right whale mortality has never been attributed to Maine lobster gear and that lobstermen have undertaken substantial measures, at great personal expense, to protect them. My Administration will keep fighting with everything we’ve got to defend the lobster industry and its hard-working men and women.”

In addition to NMFS rulemaking that has already begun, a pending decision in a second lawsuit adds urgency to the need for a decision in the MLA vs NMFS case.

The Mills Administration is also fighting for Maine lobstermen in Center for Biological Diversity v. Ross in the U.S. District Court in the D.C. Circuit to contest the Federal government’s new regulation to protect North Atlantic Right Whales.

“A court decision in the plaintiff’s favor could close Maine’s lobster fishery altogether – a completely unacceptable outcome that would be devastating to our lobstermen and their families and devastating to our coastal communities and our economy,” said Governor Mills. “We will fight tooth and nail to prevent that from happening.”

With the approval of the Office of Attorney General and $3 million approved by the State Legislature in her biennial budget, the Mills Administration has contracted with specialized outside counsel with extensive experience litigating Endangered Species Act issues related to commercial fishing to represent the State of Maine in this lawsuit. Contracting with this expert law firm, as opposed to using the Office of the Attorney General, puts the State and Maine lobstermen in a stronger position to fight the case.

Additionally, to further support Maine lobstermen, Governor Mills announced today she is dedicating $100,000 from the Governor’s Contingency Fund to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s legal defense fund to support the legal efforts.

“The State of Maine will always stand with Maine lobstermen, and this donation from my Contingent Account is an effort to ensure that the partnership between the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the State of Maine has the resources it needs to fight these lawsuits every step of the way,” said Governor Mills. “The fishermen who set out from our docks before dawn, who haul traps in all kinds of weather, who feed their families and their neighbors and our state’s economy with their catch – they are at the heart of Maine. We won’t stop fighting until we win.” 

“The Maine lobster industry is in utter shock and disbelief that their own Federal government has set a course to eliminate a fishery that has never been known to kill a single right whale”, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “Lobstermen are already mourning the loss of their industry. These are good people who care deeply about the ocean, lobsters and right whales. Lobstermen want to be part of the solution but, without action by the Court, this is not possible. That is why the partnership between MLA, the state of Maine, and all of our other partners is so critical. The MLA appreciates the state’s leadership and investment in the future of Maine’s lobstering heritage.”