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Judge: NOAA Violated Endangered Species Act By Allowing Lobster Traps That Threaten Right Whales

A federal judge ruled Thursday that federal fisheries regulators are illegally allowing lobster traps that pose a threat to the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

U.S. District Judge James Boasburg says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration violated the Endangered Species Act by authorizing the lobster fishery without appropriate attention to its impact on the whales.

Specifically, he faults the feds for failing to produce an assessment of the potential that whales will be entangled in lobster trap rope and face injury and death.

Boasburg said that failure — after NOAA had found that the American lobster fishery had the potential to harm the North Atlantic right whale at more than three times the sustainable rate — is "about as straightforward a violation of the ESA as they come," he wrote. The court then declared NOAA's so-called "biological opinion" in 2014 to be invalid under the Endangered Species Act.

The suit was brought by the Conservation Law Foundation and other conservation groups. It was defended by the feds and the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

Maine's Department of Marine Resources had no immediate comment. But in a statement, Gov. Janet Mills called the decision "deeply disturbing" and says she is instructing Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher to investigate and respond "in the coming days."

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.