Maine Lobstermen’s Association Sues Government Agency for Harsh New Conservation Goals

Yesterday, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Inc. filed a complaint in the District of Columbia against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for allegedly publishing a “draconian” Biological Opinion that could potentially shut down their Maine lobster fishery.

The NMFS issued a Biological Opinion (BiOp) this year that “evaluates the impacts of multiple fishery management plans on the North Atlantic right whale,” which mandated that fisheries implement “more” conservation measures to achieve “an additional 98% reduction” in the serious injury and mortality of these whales within the next decade. The plaintiff claimed that they already have “an extremely low incidence of interactions with right whales” due to current conservation measures put in place by their association. They believe that these measures will drive “most of Maine’s harvesters out of business” permanently. The plaintiff detailed how, due to pre-existing efforts to save the whales, there have been no known cases of whale entanglement in almost two decades, and that there has “never” been a fatal interaction with a right whale.

The plaintiff alleged that the NFMS “erroneously attributes impacts to the Maine lobster fishery that are, in fact, caused by other fisheries or by non-fishing vessels that are well-known to strike and kill North Atlantic right whales.” They are concerned that the BiOp will “decimate” their business as the cost to revamp all their technology and procedures would be immense. In the complaint, the plaintiff claimed that the NFMS “did not rely on the best available scientific information, made erroneous and arbitrary assumptions unsupported and contradicted by data and evidence […] and failed to account for either the positive impact of mitigation measures already or soon-to-be employed by the Maine lobster fishery.”

The plaintiff is seeking a declaration that the National Marines Fisheries Service violated the ESA and APA “by substantially overestimating the effects of the American Lobster Fishery on the North Atlantic right whale and by imposing unnecessary and inappropriate conservation targets and restrictions on the Maine lobster fishery,” a remand for the 2021 BiOp, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.

The plaintiff is represented by Stoel Rives, LLP