Court restores lobster fishing restriction in Gulf of Maine to protect endangered right whales

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BOSTON – The First Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday granted an emergency motion to reinstate a seasonal ban on lobster fishing with buoys in an area about 30 nautical miles off the coast of Maine. The National Marine Fisheries Service implemented the measure to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from deadly entanglements in lobster fishing gear.

“We’re thrilled that right whales are getting at least some relief from the lethal lobster gear,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court recognized that entanglements posed an existential threat to right whales and that federal officials followed the science in implementing this important conservation measure. But the agency must do more to protect this incredibly vulnerable species from extinction. “

The measure, part of a new Fisheries Department rule, restricts fishing to the 967 square mile area in the Gulf of Maine from October through January, when whales are at increased risk of entangling in dense and heavy lobster gear in the area. .

The decision of the first circuit recognizes that the restricted area protects whales from “swimming among a set of life-threatening lines” in the area.

“Reducing entanglements by banning fishing in this area is essential to ensure the survival of right whales,” said Erica Fuller, senior counsel at the Conservation Law Foundation. “This decision affirms that science matters. The first tour got it right: entanglements often cannot be traced, so where whales, many lines and heavy fishing lines coincide, we need fishing restrictions – now.

A group of fishermen in Maine challenged the measure and filed a petition to prohibit the entry into force of the restricted area on a preliminary basis. A federal judge in the District of Maine allowed the plaintiffs’ motion on Oct. 16. Today’s order means the shutdown will now take effect while the preliminary injunction appeal is heard by the appeals court.

The First Circuit ruled that the lower court “had misunderstood the case and overstepped its role in overturning the judgment of the agency that Congress has appointed to protect endangered marine mammals.” He further noted that “although there are serious issues on both sides, Congress has placed its thumb on the scales for the whales.”

“This decision does not come too soon for the right whale,” said Jane Davenport, senior counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. “Today’s decision reinstates the first protective measure implemented by the NMFS for the right whale since the start of the unprecedented unusual mortality event more than four years ago.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Defenders of Wildlife intervened in the case to defend the restricted area. The groups appealed the district court’s decision to the First Circuit and filed an emergency petition to suspend the effectiveness of the district court’s decision pending appeal.

The restricted area in the Gulf of Maine is the only new measure currently in place to protect right whales.

The Center, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Defenders of Wildlife separately challenged the Fisheries Service’s final entanglement rule in a District of Columbia federal court on different grounds, arguing that the agency violated major wildlife laws in the United States. detriment of the species.

Today’s decision comes three weeks after scientists announced that the right whale population had fallen to just 336 individuals in 2020, an 8% drop from 2019 and the lowest population number for species in nearly 20 years.

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