US government failing to protect rare whales from lobster fishing gear, judge says

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The US federal government hasn’t done enough to protect a rare species of whale from deadly entanglement in lobster fishing gear, and new rules are needed to protect the species from extinction, a judge has ruled .

The government violated both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing to protect the North Atlantic right whale, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said Friday. Whales number less than 340 worldwide and their population has rapidly declined in recent years.

Boasberg’s decision was a victory for conservation groups long seeking to save the whale and a new challenge for lobster fishermen who have fought back against tightening restrictions on where and how they can fish.

The decision came after a group of environmental organizations sued the federal government, complaining that it was not doing enough to save whales from lobster fishing gear.

Boasberg’s ruling validates that claim, said Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued.

“Lobster gear is a deadly threat to right whales, and the courts are telling the federal government to stop dithering and start taking real action. The Biden administration needs to work much harder to help the industry prevent these agonizing and deadly entanglements,” Monsell said.

Right whales give birth off Florida and Georgia and come north to New England and Canadian waters to feed. They are also at risk from fatal ship strikes, and federal authorities are expected to issue new guidelines soon to protect them from this threat.

Whales were once plentiful, but were decimated during the era of commercial whaling in the late 18e and 19e centuries.

Some scientists have said warming ocean temperatures cause them to move away from protected areas in search of food, making them more vulnerable to collisions and entanglement.

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