© 2024 Maine Public | Registered 501(c)(3) EIN: 22-3171529
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Scroll down to see all available streams.

New bill would expand state waters in attempt to protect Maine lobstermen from federal regulations

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images

Maine lawmakers are considering a new bill that would claim state control over a larger swath of coastal waters.

State Sen. Eric Brakey, the bill's sponsor, said the proposal is intended to protect Maine lobstermen from what he says are overly burdensome federal regulations, particularly those aimed at protecting endangered right whales.

"LD 563 would throw the yolk of these federal regulators off our Maine lobstermen by extending Maine's claim to the sovereignty of our oceans from three miles to 12 miles, subjecting our lobstermen to the rules of Maine regulators, accountable to Maine people, rather than Washington, DC regulators who seem accountable to no one," he told the Legislature's marine resources committee Thursday.

But Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said the proposal wouldn't achieve the solutions that lobster fishermen are seeking. The Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act apply to both state and federal waters, and Keliher said the measure could increase the amount of risk associated with the Maine lobster fishery.

"If those same license holders, roughly almost 4,000 of the 5,000 license holders that we have, if those same license holders could fish farther offshore to 12 nautical miles, it will result in a higher rate of cooccurrence with right whales, creating more risk that will then need to be farther mitigated," he said.

The Maine Lobstermen's Association, according to its written testimony, is also opposed. The association said the state had once explored a similar idea back in the 1990s, but it was determined not legally feasible.

But lobsterman and House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said fishermen were previously allowed to place traps farther ashore. And he believes the bill isn't a major departure from past practice.

Only Texas and Florida have claimed jurisdiction over more than three nautical miles off their coasts. Both states have extended their sovereignty out to nine miles from shore.