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Susan Collins

The Quest for Common Sense Regulations for Maine’s Lobster Industry
By Senator Susan M. Collins
Dec 9, 2006 - 8:29:58 PM

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Senator Susan Collins represents the State of Maine in the U.S. Senate.
The lobster has long been a symbol of Maine. It is prized as a delicacy on restaurant menus all around the world. Here at home, however, the lobster is much more than a delicious meal. It is a major contributor to our state’s economy. In 2005, the industry’s catch reached just over 67 million pounds, worth more than $311 million. According to the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, the fishery provides a livelihood for nearly 7,500 lobstermen as well as boat makers, marine outfitters, processors and retailers. We must do all we can to protect this thriving industry. I am, however, concerned that the federal government’s latest proposal to alter the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP) will have a negative impact on the Maine lobster industry.

While I certainly support the overall goal of the ALWTRP, to protect the right whale, I believe that any changes to these regulations must take into consideration the full economic impact those changes will have on Maine’s lobster industry. That is why I recently wrote to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, urging further analysis of the regulatory cost of this rule and suggesting that reasonable alternatives be considered that would achieve the goal of protecting the right whale while reducing the burden on our lobstermen.

Many Maine lobstermen tell me that their primary concern is the proposed limitations on floating groundlines. Maine’s rocky bottom habitat is unusual along the Atlantic coast, and much of it is not compatible with sinking or neutrally buoyant groundlines. Operational costs and gear loss due to interactions with Maine’s rocky bottom habitat make sinking and neutrally buoyant groundlines unworkable in many areas of the state. The proposed regulation would limit Maine lobstermen to using sinking and neutrally buoyant groundlines, yet, some flotation is operationally needed.

The development of a low-profile groundline provides great promise for both the industry and our conservation goals. The State of Maine, in cooperation with the lobster industry, continues to research the development of low-profile groundlines with the support of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). As soon as a workable low-profile groundline is fully developed and tested, the ALWTRP must be flexible enough to incorporate this new development. Until low-profile groundline is developed that will serve the needs of conservation and the industry, access to floating groundlines is necessary.

As the modifications to the ALWTRP are finalized, it is vital that the new rule be implemented with exemption areas for lobstering along the Maine coast, as proposed by the Maine Department of Resources. The lobstering boundaries proposed by the State are based on 35 years of sound data obtained from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. This exemption area includes the rocky terrain of Maine’s coastline where studies have shown that whales do not usually feed and where the use of sinking groundlines is dangerous and impractical. As NMFS has recognized, the marginal benefit to whale protection in the inshore area would be minimal. The adverse economic impact on small, family-owned vessels would, however, be the greatest in the near-shore areas. In fact, more than 75 percent of the projected cost of the rule is expected to be incurred by lobstermen operating in the inshore and near-shore areas of Maine.

According to the NMFS, if not modified, the annual cost of this rule will be $14.2 million, and the lobster industry is expected to bear $12.8 million of that cost. I believe even these figures do not truly capture the impact this rule could have on Maine’s economy. For example, NMFS estimates that sinking groundlines will cost up to 73 percent more than currently used groundlines, but lobstermen and rope manufacturers agree that the initial replacement cost of the rope could far exceed this. Furthermore, NMFS does not recognize that the sinking groundlines will have to be replaced far more frequently than floating groundlines and many lobster traps will need to be replaced due to gear lost from fishing sinking line. Also, it does not appear that consideration is given to the increased labor costs that will be necessary to refit lobster gear. The projected costs will only be a fraction of the actual costs to the lobster industry.

The modification of the ALWTRP will have considerable implications for Maine’s coastal economy. That is why I have urged the Office of Management and Budget to conduct further analysis of the regulatory cost of this rule, and I have asked that reasonable alternatives be considered that would minimize the economic impact on the lobster industry. Only then will these regulations work to protect both the right whale and the Maine lobster industry.

The Maine lobster industry is an environmentally responsive fishery that has worked hard to protect endangered whales. Furthermore, providing enhanced protection of whales and using alternatives that are less onerous to the lobster industry are not mutually exclusive goals. The changes I have outlined are cooperative, common sense measures that would increase the protection of whales without imposing such a financially detrimental burden on our important lobster industry.

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