Paul LePage in high level talks with White House to save Maine lobster industry

Governor Paul LePage speaking at a meeting of officials.

AUGUSTA – Paul LePage may have left the Blaine House in January, but his work is not over. A press release yesterday from the non-profit organization Maine People Before Politics, of which he is the honorary chair, said that LePage spoke with high level White House officials about the attack on Maine’s lobster industry by two wealthy environmentalist groups.

At issue is a lawsuit through which the environmentalist groups seek to force NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to impose harsh new restrictions on Maine lobstermen and women.

Most of Maine’s elected leaders of both parties, including Senator Susan Collins and Governor Janet Mills oppose the restrictions sought by the environmentalist groups. At a rally in early July, Speaker Sara Gideon was conspicuously absent as the only one of Maine’s top elected officials not present or sending a representative to speak.

In a letter to the President dated July 16th, LePage said, “Although well-intended, there is no evidence to support that the proposed restrictions on lobstering in Maine waters will save even one whale. This is unfortunately another federal overreach in response to big money environmentalists. It will hurt one of the last great fisheries in America: Maine lobster. I am not saying the loss of right whales is not a problem—it is; but penalizing Maine fishermen won’t save these whales.”

LePage went on to describe that the restrictions being sought would essentially cut the number of “end lines” allowed in Maine’s lobster industry in half. End lines are the lines used by fishermen to connect their buoys to traps.

Citing hard evidence, LePage said that “Maine’s lobster industry is one of the most sustainable fisheries on Earth. Our commercial lobstermen and -women care for marine life and are outstanding stewards of our environment.”

Only one of the seventy right whale deaths from 2003-2018 could even be attributed to entanglement in U.S. fishing gear, said LePage. Fourteen deaths were recognized as the result of entanglement in Canadian snow crab fishing gear.

“I thank the Trump Administration for their attention to this critical issue.  I’m pleased to say that today was a good first step,” Governor LePage stated after the meeting. “I am hopeful a solution can be found that is focused on science and not statistics.”

The men and women of the Maine lobster industry have said that the restrictions originally proposed would be devastating for the industry. They insist that their gear is not the cause of right whale entanglements and proudly point to the many measures the Maine lobster industry has taken to protect the fishery and whales, making Maine one of the most sustainable fisheries on the planet.

The two groups, the Conservation Law Foundation and Earthjustice filed the suit in U.S. District Court in 2018.

The Conservation Law Foundation has since gone on the record to say that while they support the current proposal for line reductions that lobster industry officials say would devastate the industry, they want more.

“Reducing and weakening the lines in the water is a start, but we need to go much further, much faster,” said Erica Fuller, a senior staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, which has sued NOAA.

Fuller said “appropriate closures” of lobster fishing also need to be part of the solution.

LePage, in his letter to the President, urged the administration to face the lawsuit with full force. “You and I, as businessmen, do not fear lawsuits. Bureaucrats do. Instead of accepting the lawsuit and having these issues and the related science aired in court to allow reasonable people to arrive at reasonable, common-sense solutions, NOAA is caving, making Maine’s lobster industry the scapegoat.”

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