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Maine’s Beleaguered Lobster Industry Just Got a Life Raft, Thanks to Congress’s Latest Spending Bill

Included in the bill is a provision that wouldn't put stricter rules into effect until 2029.

Maine lobster Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Maine’s lobster industry might be getting a lucky break, thanks—a bit strangely—to Congress.

In the spending bill that the legislative body unveiled this week, rules meant to save endangered whales wouldn’t go into effect until at least 2029, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. While that may seem unrelated to the lobsters, those connected to the industry contend that the stricter rules would pose a threat to Maine’s lobster business.

“Without our provision, Maine’s iconic industry could be facing a complete shutdown—and the ripple effects across our state would have been widespread,” Maine’s congressional delegation and the state’s governor said in a statement.

The new regulations are meant to protect the 340 North Atlantic right whales that still exist. Environmentalists say that the whales can get caught up in the ropes used to attach lobster traps to buoys, ultimately causing the whales to die. (This contributed to Maine lobster losing its “sustainable” label just last month.) Maine’s lobster industry, however, counters that claim, and says it changed some of its practices earlier this year to help minimize risk.

Groups trying to protect the right whales are, unsurprisingly, not very happy with the delay of the rules’ implementation. If waiting until 2029 to change things, the whales could go extinct before then, they say.

“Sacrificing a great whale to extinction in exchange for funding the government is immoral,” Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the WSJ. “A hundred years from now, no one will remember or care about the trivial victories Democrats will try to claim in this legislation, but they’ll mourn the loss of the right whale.”

Previously, a federal judge had ruled that the government wasn’t doing enough to protect the right whales, and gave the government until December 2024 to issue new regulations. While fisheries and ship strikes are also threats to the whales, researchers believe that lobstering in the Gulf of Maine poses a great risk. But the lobsters are also a vital resource in Maine, and the industry employs a huge swath of people in the state.

At least for now—and for the next several years—it seems like that will continue to be the case.

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