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After court victory, Maine lobster industry expects status quo for a few more years

A lobsterman uses a gauge to measure a freshly caught lobster, which turned out to be just under the legal size to keep, on Friday, June 17, 2011 off Three Islands, Maine.
Pat Wellenbach
/
AP file
A lobsterman uses a gauge to measure a freshly caught lobster, which turned out to be just under the legal size to keep, on Friday, June 17, 2011 off Three Islands, Maine.

The Maine lobster industry scored a major victory last month, when a federal appeals court ruled that the scientific assumptions used to regulate fishing and protect endangered North Atlantic right whales went too far. That means the status quo for Maine fishermen should remain for several more years.

"The gear markings, weak links and other steps the fishery has taken in attempt to reduce entanglement risks will stay in place for the foreseeable future," says Patrice McCarron of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

McCarron says with the new court ruling, the industry will now wait for the federal government to make new scientific models. Those models will eventually be used to write new fishing regulations, but she doesn't expect discussions will begin for at least another three years.

McCarron says the Maine industry is hopeful that federal officials will use those new models to set what she believes will be more realistic risk reduction targets in the coming years. The lobster fishery had been on the hook to reduce its risk to right whales by 98%.

"And if it's more realistic, we're going to have a lot more buy-in from the fishing industry. Because it's going to make sense to people, and it's going to match their experience. And they can feel like the efforts they're doing really, really are helping," McCarron says.

There are fewer than 350 right whales, and 70 breeding females remain. Conservation groups have argued the population will decline rapidly if additional measures aren't taken within the next five years.