Fishing industry, regulators back lobster fishing fund plan

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Members of Maine’s fishing industry and state regulators testified Tuesday in favor of the creation of a new $30 million fund to help lobster fishermen cope with new rules meant to protect whales.

Federal rules make an approximately 950-square-mile (2,460-square-kilometer) area of the Gulf of Maine essentially off limits to lobster fishing from October to January. A proposal from Democratic Rep. Holly Stover would create the fund to provide grants to lobstermen and other fishermen affected by the rules.

Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, testified that the proposal “highlights the severe financial impacts of the federal regulations intended to protect Atlantic right whales” on some Maine fishermen.

The rules are designed to protect North Atlantic right whales, which number less than 340.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, a large trade group, also testified in favor of the proposal. Executive director Patrice McCarron said the cost to comply with the new whale conservation rules will be at least $50 million and could be much more.

The proposal would require votes in committee and before the full Maine Legislature.