ELLSWORTH – Last year, at least 17 endangered North Atlantic right whales died in Canadian waters and off the coast of New England. Some of those deaths were attributed to the whales’ entanglement with lobster fishing gear.
On Thursday, three conservation organizations sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service in the federal district court in Washington, D.C. to force the agency to impose stricter regulations on lobstermen fishing in federal waters.
The suit, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and The Humane Society of the United States, asks the court to rule that the National Marine Fisheries Service is violating the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act by allowing the lobster fishery to continue without adequate protection for right whales.
The complaint also asks the court to require that the agency “implement additional mitigation measures to reduce the risk of entanglement of North Atlantic right whales.”
The lawsuits were unlikely a surprise to fisheries regulators. Speaking in Ellsworth last week at a hearing on controversial proposals to require more reporting by Maine lobster harvesters, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said “whales are going to put all these other things in the background.”