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Business and Economy

Lawmakers endorse legal fund for Maine lobstermen, reversing earlier opposition

Scott Beede
Robert F. Bukaty
FILE - In this May 21, 2012 file photo, Scott Beede returns an undersized lobster while checking traps in Mount Desert, Maine. Ocean temperatures are warmer-than-usual again in the Gulf of Maine, creating worries among lobstermen that there could be a repeat of last summer's early harvest that created a glut on the market and havoc within the industry.

A legislative committee reversed course Tuesday, voting to support a roughly $900,000 fund to pay for the lobster industry's legal fight against federal rules that aim to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Two advocacy groups, the Maine Lobstermen's Association and the Maine Lobstering Union, would split the funding.

The Marine Resources committee's majority voted against the measure last week. But lead sponsor Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Winter Harbor Republican and a lobsterman himself, offered an amendment that changed some of the funding sources, and put a two-year sunset on the measure.

Now, $500,000 a year would come from the state's General Fund, and the rest from an existing surcharge on lobster licenses.

The state Department of Marine Resources opposed the original bill. But the committee voted unanimously to support the latest version. It now goes to the appropriations committee to compete with other initiatives for actual funding.