The state's largest lobster industry group is asking a federal judge to lift a decades-old consent decree, prohibiting it from discussing the issues that affect lobster supply.
The Maine Lobstermen's Association says the decree is obsolete and is limiting its ability to weigh in on how the fishery should be managed.
The consent decree dates back to the late 1950s, when the Maine Lobstermen's Association and some dealers were accused of price fixing. A judge found the organization guilty and imposed the decree as punishment.
"It basically has all of the same teeth as the Sherman Antitrust Act," says Patrice McCarron, who runs the MLA. "Our concern, as an association, is that it has broad statements about the association not being involved with anything that has to do with lobster supply."
Court orders like this typically have a finite life - say 10 years. But Patrice McCarron says this decree has no expiration date. McCarron says that's preventing her organization, which represents lobstermen throughout Maine, from joining key debates about what management strategies will ensure the fishery's long-term health.
"Trap reductions, seasonal restrictions, changes to the gauge - anything that might increase or decrease the rate at which lobsters are landed," McCarron says. "Even a closed season would fit into that category."
McCarron says MLA needs to be able to weigh in when these ideas come up in industry meetings with Maine marine resources officials. So the group has filed a petition with the U.S. District Court in Portland, seeking to have the decree lifted. If the motion is any indication, the MLA appears to have reason for optimism.
"After soliciting comments from the public on the MLA's proposed motion to terminate," the motion reads, "the United States has provisionally indicated that it does not intend to oppose the motion having concluded that the Final Judgment is no longer needed to protect competition, is presumed no longer to be in the public interest, and should be terminated pursuant to current policy of the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice."