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US government failing to protect rare whales from lobster fishing gear, judge rules

THE US federal government hasn’t done enough to protect a rare species of whale from lethal entanglement in lobster fishing gear, and new rules are needed to protect the species from extinction, a judge has ruled.

The government has violated both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing to protect the North Atlantic right whale, US District Judge James Boasberg ruled on Friday. The whales number fewer than 340 in the world and have been declining rapidly in population in recent years.

Mr Boasberg’s ruling was a victory for conservation groups who have long sought to save the whale and a new challenge for lobster fishermen who have fought back against tightening restrictions on where and how they can fish.

The ruling came after a group of environmental organisations sued the federal government with a complaint that it wasn’t doing enough to save whales from lobster gear.

Mr Boasberg’s ruling validates that claim, said Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Centre for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued.

“Lobster gear is a deadly threat to right whales, and the courts are telling the federal government to quit stalling and start taking real action. The Biden administration has to work much harder to help the industry prevent these agonising, deadly entanglements,” Ms Monsell said.

The right whales give birth off Florida and Georgia and come north to the waters off New England and Canada to feed. They’re also imperilled by lethal collisions with ships, and federal authorities are expected to soon release new guidelines to help protect them from that threat.

The whales were once numerous, but they were decimated during the commercial whaling era in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Some scientists have said warming ocean temperatures are causing them to stray from protected areas in search of food, and that has left them more vulnerable to collisions and entanglement.

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