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Environment and Outdoors

Mills Administration To Fight Right Whale Lawsuit That Could Lead To ‘Draconian’ Effects On Lobster Industry

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service approach a young North Atlantic right whale in order to disentangle it. New research shows whales with severe entanglements in rope and fishing gear are experiencing stunted growth, and body lengths have been decreasing since 1981.
Scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service approach a young North Atlantic right whale in order to disentangle it. New research shows whales with severe entanglements in rope and fishing gear are experiencing stunted growth, and body lengths have been decreasing since 1981.

The Mills administration says it's pursuing several actions to contest recently-released lobstering restrictions designed to protect endangered right whales. It's also intervening in an ongoing lawsuit that officials say could be more devastating to the industry.

Marine Resources chief Patrick Keliher says that Gov. Janet Mills is hiring private attorneys to help fight a lawsuit in the U.S. D.C. Circuit Court brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups that are challenging the data used by the federal government to issue lobstering regulations to protect right whales.

Keliher says prevailing in that lawsuit won't undo the new federal lobstering regulations that effectively close off traditional lobstering for 950 square miles of the Gulf of Maine from October through January.

But he says it will prevent potentially stricter regulations or an outright closure in some areas.

"Our belief is that it could be much more draconian if there was a [court] remedy that they pushed for that is going to be much, much worse than what just happened with this rule," he said.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the new federal rules don't go far enough and that the Fisheries Service assessment of how lobster gear affects right whales fails to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Keliher says the Mills administration is also working with state's congressional delegation to find ways to mitigate impacts on the industry.

He hinted that the administration is contemplating additional actions — potentially legal ones — but that it's too soon to know if any are viable.

The Office of Attorney General has authorized the hiring of private attorneys at an initial cost of $230,000.