Maine Lobstermen's Association sued federal government challenging flawed federal plan

KENNEBUNK, Maine (June 16, 2023)-- Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Maine Lobstermen's Association (MLA) in its appeal of a lower court ruling in Maine Lobstermen's Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service. 

 In its ruling, the Court wrote: “In this case, we decide whether, in a biological opinion, the Service must, or even may, when faced with uncertainty, give the “benefit of the doubt” to an endangered species by relying upon worst-case scenarios or pessimistic assumptions. We hold it may not. The ESA and the implementing regulations call for an empirical judgment about what is “likely.” The Service’s role as an expert is undermined, not furthered, when it distorts that scientific judgment by indulging in worst-case scenarios and pessimistic assumptions to benefit a favored side.”

Following is the initial reaction from Patrice McCarron, policy director for the MLA:

When the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) made the decision to sue the federal government, we knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we refused to go down without a fight. Today’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals is an overwhelming victory for lobstering families and the communities that rely on this industry, and it reaffirms what the MLA has been saying all along – the federal government does not have a blank check to use “worst case scenarios” and disregard actual data in its regulation of the Maine lobster fishery.

 "MLA is grateful for the panel’s thorough and unanimous opinion that exposes the flaws in the biological opinion that lobstermen have been emphasizing from the beginning – flaws that threatened to sink our entire fishery and devastate our livelihoods and our communities.

 "While today’s decision is great news, our work will continue. We all agree with the need to ensure a safe environment in which the endangered right whale can recover, and MLA is hopeful that this decision will force the National Marine Fisheries Service to go back to the drawing board to develop a plan that uses best available science and accurate data and, importantly, that will protect whales without eliminating the lobster fishery.”



 In September 2021, MLA filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s fundamentally flawed 10-year whale protection plan that will all but eliminate the Maine lobster fishery yet still fail to save the endangered North Atlantic right whale. MLA argues that NMFS has overestimated the lobster industry’s risk to right whales by cherry-picking the science and using unsupported assumptions and “worst-case scenarios” to justify its mandate for Maine's lobster fishery to reduce its already minimal risk to right whales by 98%. MLA claims that NMFS also failed to follow mandatory legal requirements to assess the economic and social costs of their actions.

 On September 8, 2022, a federal judge in Washington, DC ruled against MLA in an opinion that deferred to the federal agency on all counts without disputing the validity of MLA’s concerns. As a result, NMFS was fast-tracking the 10-year whale plan to require Maine’s lobster industry to implement an unachievable 90-percent “risk reduction” as quickly as possible or the federal lobster fishery could be shutdown.

 In October 2022, the MLA announced that it had retained former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and filed for expedited consideration of MLA’s appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. 

For more than 25 years, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association has been leading the effort to keep right whales safe in the rare instance they encounter Maine lobster gear.  MLA is Maine’s only statewide organization committed to the preservation of a sustainable lobster resource and the fishermen and communities that depend on it. 

The MLA is engaged in a four-prong strategy to Save Maine Lobstermen AND right whales. Learn more here.