1st Circuit Restores Federal Rules on Maine Lobster Fishing

Rules restricting the Maine lobster industry can remain in effect pending litigation, according to a Tuesday opinion released by the First Circuit. The challenged rule bars lobster fishing in a large swath of coastal Maine from October through January annually.

The rule change was promulgated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and covers 967 square miles. The seasonal ban, according to the opinion, was enacted to reduce the risk that right whales could become entangled in ropes attached to lobster traps.

The rule was finalized in August. In September, before the rule came into effect, it was challenged by affected members of the lobster industry in Maine. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, which the government appealed to the First Circuit.

The opinion said that “the district court misapprehended the record and over-stepped its role in rejecting the judgments of the agency that Congress has charged with protecting endangered marine mammals.”

The opinion explained that the whale populations are severely low; the NMFS estimated that there are at most only 360 of the whales remaining. They argued that Congress, through its delegation to the agency, has established that preserving the whale population is a strong public interest, a fact that the district court erred in overlooking.

The plaintiff is represented by McCloskey Mina Cunniff & Frawley.