A federal judge on Thursday shot down a challenge by lobstering groups to federal rules intended to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg rejected a bid by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association and the state of Maine to block federal regulators from imposing new limits on where and how lobstermen can fish in federal waters.

Boasberg, who had previously ruled that new federal regulations didn’t go far enough in protecting right whales, ruled on Thursday that the state and lobstering groups can’t delay or derail the regulations. He rejected the lobstering groups’ contention that the National Marine Fisheries Service has overstated the risk that lobstering poses to the whales and overregulates the industry.

Boasberg said the NMFS was neither arbitrary nor capricious in coming up with its regulations and therefore he wouldn’t strike them down.

The federal agency, he wrote, explained how it came up with its estimates of the right whale population and its models for the future and then submitted its methods to peer review. Those population estimates are the basis for the new regulations the fisheries service wants to impose.

“That is all the Administrative Procedures Act requires,” the judge wrote in denying the motion by the lobstermen’s groups and the state for a summary judgment blocking new regulations.


The lobstermen’s groups say the regulations will curtail where they can fish for lobster and require them to use new gear intended to reduce the chance of whales getting entangled in vertical lines from the buoys to the traps. They point out that there hasn’t been a documented entanglement in Maine gear since 2004, and that no documented whale deaths have been attributed to Maine gear.

Gov. Janet Mills called the ruling “extremely disappointing, to say the least” and “out of touch with reality.”

In a statement, she said the fisheries service has interpreted its data “in the most conservative way possible” and hasn’t taken into account ship strikes on whales or entanglements in Canadian snow crab gear.

The result, Mills said, puts “all the burden of right whale protection squarely on the shoulders of Maine’s lobster fishery.”

Mills said her administration will consult with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association about its next step.



The lobsterman’s association said “the federal district court and the National Marine Fisheries Service have failed Maine’s lobster industry. ”

Bob Williams ties up at the bait shed at Greenhead Lobster in Stonington in early September 2016. Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“It has become crystal clear that (the court doesn’t) grasp the devastating impacts their decisions will have on the Maine lobster industry, (or on) our coastal communities and the state of Maine,” the association said in a statement.

The association said the ruling “provides a blank check for NMFS to continue to use admitted ‘worst case scenarios’ and disregard actual data in its regulation of a fishery that has zero documented right whale entanglements over the last 18 years.”

The ruling puts the lobster industry at great risk, the association said, and it promised to continue to challenge the fisheries service’s regulations.

“This is not the end,” the association said. “We won’t go down without a fight.”

But the Conservation Law Foundation, which joined the fisheries service as a defendant by intervening in the suit, said Boasberg “made the right decision for the right whales.”

“While the federal government’s protections for whales have not gone far enough, they have made reasoned decisions about the threats posed by the Maine lobster fishery in the absence of evidence to the contrary,” Erica Fuller, the foundation’s senior attorney, said in a statement Thursday night.

“We must switch the discussion to measures that allow fishing and help recover the right whale species before it’s too late,” Fuller said. “The clock is ticking.”

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