Signage is seen at the entrance to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, DC, USA REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Judge rejects lobster industry position that evidence does not support conservation group claims fishing gear causes whale deaths
  • Environmental groups say decision underlines urgency of reforms

(Reuters) – The Biden administration relied on sound science to create a rule affecting the lobster industry designed to reduce harm to endangered whales, said a federal judge who dismissed a lawsuit. legal action brought by fishermen claiming that the government had exaggerated the impact of their industry.

The government’s 2021 biological advisory and subsequent rule requiring fewer vertical ropes in the water and limiting buoys in certain areas during whale migration relied on what it considered to be the best data available to the time, despite industry claims that the findings exaggerate the threat to the North Atlantic right whale, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled Thursday, granting summary judgment to the government defendants.

The harm reduction rule was issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2021 under pressure from conservation groups who said strict regulations were needed to reduce the risk of endangered animals tangled in lobster fishing lines.

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The current population of North Atlantic right whales is estimated at fewer than 340, according to environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Conservation Law Foundation. These groups intervened on behalf of the government in the matter of the lobster fishermen.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been reporting “high” mortality rates of whales in their habitat in U.S. and Canadian waters since at least 2017. At least 34 dead whales have been recorded during that time, most caused by entanglements or ship strikes, NOAA said. .

Environmental groups, in a separate lawsuit, claimed government regulations and analysis don’t go far enough to protect the whales. After initially challenging an earlier version of the biological opinion in 2018, the groups have continued to push back against the government’s regulatory approach to the North Atlantic lobster fishery, culminating in a July court order finding that the NMFS did not act quickly enough to protect the critical situation. endangered whale. This case is still pending.

Thursday’s ruling “affirms that right whales can wait no longer for stronger protections from deadly entanglements in fishing gear,” Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Thursday.

NMFS spokespersons declined to comment. Lobster fishing industry groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The case is Maine Lobstermen’s Association Inc. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al, US District Court for the District of Columbia, Case No. 21-2509.

For the Maine Lobstermen’s Association: James Feldman, Jason Morgan and Ryan Steen of Stoel Rives and Jane Luxton of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith

For Government: Brett Grosko and Taylor Mayhall of the US Department of Justice

For environmental groups: Kristen Monsell from the Center for Biological Diversity, Jane Davenport from Defenders of Wildlife and Erica Fuller from the Conservation Law Foundation

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