Labstermen, fishing group appeal decision to protect whales

Labstermen, fishing group appeal decision to protect whales

The state of Maine and a fishing group are appealing a federal judge's decision to protect endangered whales.

The judge denied a request from fishermen to stop federal regulators from putting the new restrictions on lobster fishing earlier this month. The rules are intended to protect North Atlantic right whales, which are less than 340.

Janet Mills and the Maine Lobstermen's Association said this week they're appealing that decision. Lobstermen have long contended that the new rules are too punitive to the fishing industry and based on flawed data.

The fishermen brought a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service. The fishing group is escalating its fight to save Maine's lobstering heritage from a plan that the agency admits is not necessary for the species to survive, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the lobstermen's association.

The whales are vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear and have been listed as endangered since 1970. In recent years, the baleen whale population has declined further, with the latest data estimating there are fewer than 100 breeding females in the wild, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The state and the fishermen have appealed their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Environmentalist groups who have advocated for stricter fishing rules to protect the whales cheered the decision of the lower court.

The research shows that the overlap between fixed fishing gear and right whale habitat results in entanglement risk, according to Brenna Sowder, an outreach volunteer for the Maine Coalition for North Atlantic Right Whales.

The U.S. lobster industry is based primarily in Maine and is one of the most lucrative fishing businesses in the country. Maine lobster was worth more than $700 million at the docks last year.

Mills described the federal court ruling as a wrong and out-of-touch court decision that jeopardizes the livelihoods of thousands of Maine families.