Maine congressman Jared Golden has fashioned himself as a champion of his home state's beloved lobster industry, but the Democrat has won the support of environmentalist groups that advocate for policies that could cripple the livelihood of lobstermen and his votes in Congress strengthen the regulatory agency with the industry in its crosshairs.
Golden, who represents a district that was comfortably carried by former president Donald Trump last cycle, has tried to take both sides on the lobster issue. When a federal court in July upheld regulations that limit where and how lobstermen can fish in New England, Golden called the ruling an "effort by special interests and unelected officials to ignore scientific data as they try to put lobstermen out of business." But the Maine lawmaker has also voted for legislation, such as the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, that directed a combined $6.27 billion to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, beefing up the regulatory agency tasked with enforcing the regulations that could put lobstermen out of business.
They're the types of votes environmental groups such as the League of Conservation Voters were likely hoping he'd cast when they put their weight behind him—the left-wing environmental organization, which advocates for fishing restrictions detrimental to the lobster industry, has contributed $17,000 to Golden since 2018.
Golden faces a tight reelection campaign against former Republican congressman Bruce Poliquin—and lobstermen have significant influence in the state. Maine's lobster industry generated more than $700 million in revenue last year and employs nearly 5,000 people. The federal regulations restrict lobstermen from fishing within a 1,000-mile radius of New England's coast between October and January and ban the use of specific netting equipment in an effort to preserve North Atlantic right whales.
Lobstermen associations in New England raised millions to rally support against the regulations, but those efforts appear doomed after the July court ruling. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Maine lobsterman and Republican member of the Maine House, said Golden's ties to environmental special interests contradict his claim that he is an ally to lobstermen.
"Left-wing environmental groups keep attacking our industry while supporting Maine Democrats like Jared Golden," Faulkingham told the Washington Free Beacon. "Golden should explain why he's okay with getting financial and political support from these groups who are trying to strangle the Maine lobster industry."
Bobby Reynolds, a senior adviser for Golden's campaign, said the congressman disagrees with the League of Conservation Voters' position on lobster fishing restrictions and claimed the billions in increased funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does not specifically go toward enforcing these "misguided" regulations.
"No federal official has been stronger in defending Maine lobstermen than congressman Golden, and Maine lobstermen know the congressman will always stand with them against the forces that threaten their industry and way of life," Reynolds told the Free Beacon.
The League of Conservation Voters listed Golden as one of its key candidates in 2018, and the lawmaker promoted his 95 percent rating from the group on Facebook last year. The group's parent organization Give Green had a webpage for Golden but appears now to have removed any information about the candidate. The League of Conservation Voters did not respond to a request for comment.
The lobster fishing regulations are not Golden's first environmental controversy. The congressman praised an offshore wind turbine project headed by New England Aqua Ventus that has received $47 million from the federal government. The project is unpopular with the state's fishermen, who say it will interfere with their operations. The outcry from the fishing industry led Democratic governor Janet Mills to push the state legislature to halt any additional offshore turbine projects.
Golden received $3,656 in campaign donations from two registered lobbyists that represent New England Aqua Ventus, Federal Election Commission records show. Other environmentalist groups have also backed Golden's campaign: The Sierra Club has donated $7,940 since 2018, and the Democratic Conservation Alliance PAC gave $1,000.
Golden has attempted to counter the economic harm the federal regulations are expected to inflict on his state's lobster industry. He proposed a bill in March that would establish a grant program to help cover the estimated $45 million cost for lobstermen who need new gear to accommodate the regulations.
While the legislative attempt may help Golden's election chances, it's unlikely the aid will reach the lobstermen. His bill has yet to make it out of committee.
The Democratic infrastructure bill, on the other hand, passed with Golden's support. The bill provides $20 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support the Endangered Species Act, which protects the North Atlantic right whales. The funds from the Inflation Reduction Act are directed toward construction of a new marine operations facilities and fishery laboratories.