Eric Pray unpacks a lobster on a Portland wharf in May 2020. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, file

A federal appeals court has agreed to expedite the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s appeal of a National Marine Fisheries Service decision aimed at protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on Tuesday that all briefs from both sides must be submitted no later than Jan. 10. Once that step has been completed, oral arguments will be scheduled. The court gave no indication of when that might occur.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who has been retained to represent the lobstermen’s association, filed a motion with the court on Oct. 11 for an expedited briefing and oral argument. In his motion, Clement said the fisheries service protection plan represents an “egregious example of administrative overreach that poses an existential threat to the iconic, centuries-old lobster industry in Maine and the rest of New England.”

Maine lobstermen hauled in about $725 million worth of lobster in 2021, shattering the previous record of $541 million set in 2016. It is the state’s most valuable fishery by far.

“We are pleased that the appeals court understands the urgency of hearing our argument that National Marine Fisheries Service has abused its discretion and that its current whale plan will not only destroy our industry and our livelihoods, but also won’t recover the right whale,” MLA Executive Director Patrice McCarron said in a statement.

The association challenged the federal government’s federal right whale protection plan in September 2021, arguing that it will fail to save the endangered whales and all but eliminate the lobster fishery in Maine.

In addition, the MLA says that federal regulators failed to follow mandatory legal requirements to assess the economic and social costs of their actions. Meanwhile, the fisheries service will require Maine’s lobster industry to implement a 90% risk reduction plan as quickly as possible.

According to the MLA, there are about 4,750 commercially licensed lobstermen and 1,085 student license holders in Maine. The state’s lobster fleet support more than 12,000 jobs. The lobster supply chain side of the industry supports an additional 5,500 jobs, MLA said.

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