New England fishermen are bracing themselves for another salvo of regulation and activist pressure after the tragic entanglement death of a right whale that washed ashore on Martha’s Vineyard.

While the future of our fisheries is uncertain, 2023 showed how much resilience and determination there is in our maritime communities. My organization – the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association – and our many partners are prepared to ward off any attempt to scapegoat Maine lobstermen for the declining population of the majestic right whale.

Regulators and out-of-state agitators are together impugning one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world for right whale deaths. Their claims are baseless and contradicted by their own data. As agencies and NGOs ponder next steps, they might consider the fighting spirit this last year has showcased among fishermen.

Take the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, which won a landmark victory for lobstermen over the summer when a federal appeals court blocked a regulatory plan that threatened the future of our industry. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s whale protection plan called on lobstermen to remove so much rope and so many traps from the water that lobstering would not be economically viable. Owing to MLA’s victory, NOAA’s whale plan is on hold through 2028.

The suit highlighted that much of NOAA’s whale plan was based on guesswork and conjecture, a frustrating experience familiar to all fishermen. The appeals court characterized the legal question in the case as whether agency decision-making may be predicated “upon worst-case scenarios or pessimistic assumptions.” Remember that the next time regulators and their “environmentalist” allies insist that their decisions reflect the best available science.

Apart from pressure on the regulatory front, lobstermen have also faced setbacks on the demand-side of the market. Dark money groups with no ties to Maine, such as Seafood Watch, have pressured major buyers to stop buying Maine lobster products. Some high volume buyers, such as Whole Foods and Royal Caribbean, claim to source their products from Seafood Watch approved sources.


The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA), and others filed a defamation suit against Seafood Watch in March of last year. It’s extremely difficult to prevail on a defamation claim. Whatever the outcome, this suit should at least force Seafood Watch to reconsider its claims about our fishery, which ignore or mischaracterize essential facts. The plaintiffs’ complaint is devastating on these points.

Maine’s congressional delegation recognizes the importance of lobstering to our state and were strong in support of their constituents when news broke about the late right whale entanglement. A joint statement from every member of the delegation noted this entanglement was the first directly attributable to our fishery since 2004, and the first ever documented fatality. I’m grateful for this statement and hopeful of their continued support as regulators mull a response.

Beyond the lobster industry, fishermen appear to be on track for an important victory in the U.S. Supreme Court against the industry-funded at sea monitor rule. This rule requires fishermen to bear the expense, salaries included, of government agents who board their vessels to ensure compliance with federal rules. The government concedes that cost to fishermen of this program is about $700 per day.

These victories are especially encouraging because of our limited resources and national profile. Unlike our adversaries, fishermen do not have donors, lawyers, lobbyists or the force of law at our command. We are our own advocates.

While the domestic fishing industry faces many challenges – I haven’t even mentioned the threat posed by offshore wind development – fishermen notched important victories last year. We are resolved to protect our communities our maritime heritage, and our culture of stewardship against all comers.

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