Five Maine lobstermen, with the support of the Sustainable Maine Fishing Foundation, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Maine, alleging that recent rules promulgated by the Maine Department of Marine Fisheries (MDMR) present an immediate and severe risk to the constitutionally protected privacy interests of Maine lobstermen.
The fishermen are seeking emergency injunctive relief from a federal judge in Maine, which will restrain the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission from maintaining the 24-hour electronic monitoring that has already been in place.
The rule went into effect on Dec. 15, 2023, mandating that all Maine lobstermen with federal lobster fishing permits must install and maintain 24-hour electronic tracking devices on their lobster boats, keep them operational when the vessel is in the water regardless of where the vessel is landing, the trip type, and the location of where they were fishing no matter the target species.
Plaintiffs Frank Thompson, Joel Strout, Jason Lord, Christopher Smith, and Jack Cunningham contend that the 24-hour surveillance of Maine’s federally licensed lobster fleet is unconstitutional, unwarranted, and unfair to Maine lobstermen. They state that this industry has proven through the actions of generations of lobstering families that they are reasonable, sustainable stewards of the ocean’s ecosystems.
They further contended, “the collection of such information, without any assurance that it will remain protected from further dissemination, including for the benefit of other “offshore” industry interests unrelated to lobster fishing, is improper and manifests violation of their constitutionally protected privacy rights.”
Maine Sustainable Fishing Foundation and the plaintiffs support appropriate regulatory measures and monitoring of the ocean ecosystems to protect both the lobster fishery and other wildlife that inhabit it. However, they find that the recent rules put in place by MDMR are an invasion of the personal and commercial privacy interests of Maine lobstermen and women.
Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, is named as the defendant in this case in his official capacity. Maine DMR has declined to comment on the lawsuit at this time.
Attorney Thimi Mina told Maine Public, “They’re an important part of their lives, and they use these vessels for purposes other than commercial lobstering, including other commercial ventures, personal use, family use, and recreational use.”
The Sustainable Maine Fishing Foundation is holding an active fundraiser in support of protecting Maine lobstermen’s privacy interests.
Find the complete press release and motion here.