A lobster boat motors out of Portland Harbor at dawn on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday directed $100,000 in state money toward the appeal of a federal ruling that upheld new fishing requirements designed to protect right whales.

The decision, handed down in early September, went against the Maine Lobstermen’s Association in its bid to roll back the new fishing requirements. The association and state filed an appeal saying that the ruling was based on flawed data, and the regulations are too punitive to the lobster industry.

In a statement, the Democratic governor said federal regulators are moving “heedlessly ahead to implement new rules that would devastate Maine lobstermen,” so the appeals court must quickly move to “prevent further damage” to the iconic industry.

“My Administration will keep fighting with everything we’ve got to defend the lobster industry and its hard-working men and women,” she said.

The fishing group is “escalating its fight to save Maine’s lobstering heritage from a plan that the agency itself admits is not needed for the species to survive,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the lobstermen’s association.

Maine politicians have hammered the federal rules and the ruling earlier this month in the case, generally speaking with one voice on that issue. But Mills has broken with other big-name officials to back offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine, something that has angered lobstermen and is opposed by former Gov. Paul LePage, her chief 2022 opponent.

The issue has made its way into their campaign. LePage, a Republican, has said the state should be leading the lawsuit, but Mills’ office said Tuesday that contracting with an outside firm to assist on the lawsuit puts the industry in the best position to fight the rules.

The $100,000 comes from Mills’ public contingency fund, which can be used as the governor sees fit. Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said the governor is “trying to buy this election” and the money amounts to “a teardrop in the ocean” when compared to threats to the industry.

Mills’ announcement came on the same day that the association reported hiring former Solicitor General Paul Clement to lead the appeal. The U.S. lobster industry is based primarily in Maine and is one of the most lucrative fishing businesses in the country. Maine lobster were worth more than $700 million at the docks last year.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.