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Environment and Outdoors

Conservationists go to federal appeals court seeking more lobster gear restrictions

Right Whale Deaths
Michael Dwyer
FILE - In this March 28, 2018, file photo, a North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. The population of North Atlantic right whales has dipped to the lowest level in two decades, according to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium.

Conservation groups are taking their case for restricting lobster gear off Maine's coast to a federal appeals court. It's the latest in the ongoing dispute over how to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales from extinction.

The federal government wanted to impose the restrictions in a 960-square mile area off the state's Midcoast starting last month. But a U.S. district court judge in Bangor barred the action, pending the outcome of a legal challenge by the Maine Lobstering Union.

Now the Conservation Law Foundation and other conservation groups are telling the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that the lower court's order should be lifted, pending the outcome of their own appeal. And they submitted evidence that right whales have been identified swimming in the disputed zone within the past few weeks.

They say that shows that the roughly 340 whales left on the planet face a high risk of entanglement in lobster trap rope and gear there, and they are asking the court to re-impose the restrictions by Nov. 15.