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Biden admin's new rule could put pinch on lobster fishermen while letting others off the hook

October 24, 2023

FIRST ON FOX: The Biden administration is moving to impose stricter regulations to New England lobstermen in order to protect an endangered whale species – despite the lack of any evidence that lobster fishing harms the whales, according to critics.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is planning to enact a new federal rule under the Marine Mammal Protection Act – which would expand an existing restricted area off the coast of Maine where lobster fishing is already banned for three months each year. The move would cut the lobsermens’ business by at least 25% of the already declining industry, critics say.

The plans come as an attempt to protect the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, but a group of fishermen say the agency have no data to support the tightening restrictions. They also claim the federal agency is playing favorites by greenlighting offshore wind developments even though recent studies show can be harmful to marine life.

"The federal government treats foreign offshore wind developers much better than lobstermen. The corporations have official authorization to disturb and displace marine life. Working lobstermen aren’t as lucky as our friends," Dustin Delano, chief operating officer of the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association told Fox New Digital.

The association has submitted a public comment to oppose the new federal rule, in which they argue that at a minimum the agency is "rearranging" language in a federal statute to "assume authority it does not have." In short, they argue the agency is trying to impose a rule with power Congress did not grant it.

The group also argues that the agency uses "outdated" data collection methods to assess the risks to the right whales.

For example, the lobstermen say they have been using equipment that increases "’the chance of right whales parting the rope (self-releasing) to reduce mortalities and serious injuries when entanglements do occur’ for a year and a half."

"Yet, the Agency did not consider whether these equipment modifications have sufficiently reduced risk outcomes to the extent that extending the MRA to cover the Wedge Area is still justified," the comment states.

The North Atlantic right whale is an endangered species, with fewer than 400 left in the ocean. They are vulnerable to vessel strikes or entanglement with fishing gear. But notably, there has also never been a documented instance of Maine lobstermen seriously injuring or killing a right whale critics say.

Delano, who is a fourth-generation lobsterman, says that "blaming lobstermen for dead whales is just wind industry favoritism," noting that more studies are showing that offshore wind turbine constructing poses more threats to whales and marine wildlife.

In August, the Biden administration appeared to scramble for research on the conflict between wind turbines and the highly endangered species following reports of "unprecedented" whale deaths.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a regulatory body from the Department of Interior that leases offshore areas for energy development, posted a grant notice in May aimed at "addressing key information gaps in acoustic ecology of the North Atlantic Right Whales."

"Regulators are quietly studying interactions between wind farm construction and whale acoustics," Delano said. He also referenced a recent study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences which warned that wind energy mimics the effects of climate change with respect to endangered whales.

The problem is the government has already approved offshore wind projects, and some experts are saying the attention to the whales is too little too late.

Production on at least one major wind farm project is already underway. The first phase of Vineyard Wind 1, the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, was completed at the end of last May.

The project consists of 62 turbines, each up to 850 feet high (taller than any building in Boston) with blades roughly 350 feet long, planted 15 miles off Martha’s Vineyard.

"The policy outcomes don’t match their own studies," said Delano.

If NOAA still enacts the rule despite the pushback, the lobstermen are likely to file a lawsuit to challenge it.

"One right whale death is too many. I don't think you'd find any fishermen that would disagree … one is too many. And for the government to be holding offshore wind to a different standard is blasphemy, in my mind. Incredibly hypocritical," Delano said.

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