A GOP candidate for Congress in Maine compared federal lobster regulators to child rapists during a rally for lobster fishermen on Wednesday, then walked back his comments before the day was over.
Republican Ed Thelander said during the rally that the federal agency that regulates the lobstering industry, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “wants to rape you and your family, and they’re saying ‘pick a child.’”
Thelander, a retired Navy SEAL, said during the rally that he’s “negotiated a lot in my life.”
“You have to prove yourself honorable to do so, and they are not,” Thelander said of regulators. “Don’t negotiate with a rapist."
Thelander is a longshot against Rep. Chellie Pingree, who won re-election in 2020 with more than 60 percent of the vote. During a debate Wednesday night, Thelander said that his comments “were over the top and I apologize for that.
“I’m very passionate about it. I love those families,” Thelander said Wednesday night. “I’m seeing the struggles they have, and nothing has been done about it.”
The NOAA is the target of Thelander and lobster fishermen’s ire over a proposed rule from the National Marine Fisheries Service that would more strictly regulate where lobster can be caught in federal waters and what equipment can be used to catch them.
The new rules were intended to protect the endangered right whale, but the state of Maine and lobster unions have sued the federal government to block the policy from going into effect. A federal judge rejected their attempt last month.
The environmental watchdog group Seafood Watch, which is operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, also released a recommendation last month that consumers should avoid eating lobster because traps used to catch them “pose a risk to overfished or at-risk species, including endangered North Atlantic right whales.”
Pingree said during Wednesday’s debate that she also opposes the NOAA’s proposal, and that a hit to lobstering would negatively affect her family and community.
“If lobster fishing were to dry up, that’s the elementary school that my kids went to. That’s the school that my grandchildren go to. That’s the restaurant that my family runs,” Pingree said.
“So don’t say I’m not passionate about it,” Pingree said to Thelander. “I appreciate your apology, and think it’s a very good thing to do.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.